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AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE. 

Square crown 8vo, $1.25 lut. Postage extra. 
THE LIFE AND LETTERS OF LAFCADIO 

HEARN. In two volumes. Illustrated, 8vO; 

$6.00 net. Postage, 40 cents. 

HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY 
Boston and New York 



AT THE SIGN OF 
THE HOBBY-HORSE 



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COPYRIGHT, 191O, BY ELIZABETH BISLAND WETMORE 
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 

Published May iqio 



To C. W. W. 

" MASTER OF THE HORSE " 

THIS BOOK IS AFFECTIONATELY 

DEDICATED 



PREFACE 

FROM earliest childhood my favourite exercise 
has been what might properly be called ligno- 
equestrianism. As soon as articulate speech was at 
my command, it was my practice to catch and 
mount, bare backed, any small, wild hobby which 
might happen to graze in the vicinity, and, with 
beating heart and flying hair, to ride it round and 
round the narrow enclosure of my immature ideas. 
Though frequently run away with, and often thrown 
or kicked by the vicious little beasts, my passion for 
this diversion suffered no diminution. Grown to ma- 
turity, my most serious efforts have been devoted to 
the collection and propagation of a stud of these in- 
teresting animals. I can now boast of a stable con- 
taining a long string of sleek and able cattle (for the 
hobby breeds freely in captivity), and I have a strong- 
minded and tireless mount for every mood. 

Settled in the saddle, I have covered a wide terri- 
tory. Sometimes at a snaiFs pace, and with hanging 
bridle, I explore the pleasant country-side ; passing 
those who are laboriously clearing new lands of 
science, or carefully tilling old fields of thought ; 
always experiencing a cheerful satisfaction at the 

[vii] 



PREFACE 

reflexion that, unlike these, I am not tied to the 
soil of exact facts or demonstrable truths, but may 
wander where fancy leads. 

Sometimes I mount to tilt pleasantly against 
conventional windmills, which whirl me head over 
heels. Again I chase small deer, which afford more 
exercise than the value of the quarry may justify. 
Or I cheerfully pursue the elusive shadows that 
drive across the landscape. 

At other times, with hands low and feet well home, 
I gallop, ventre-a-terre, straight across country. 
There may be high hedges of tradition, or ticklish 
ditches of error, in this wild path, but owning none 
but true-bred hunting hobbies, at a touch of the 
heel they clear fences without flicking a rail, and take 
ofi^ cleanly from crumbling banks, and we hardly 
pause in our stride until we arrive — breathless and 
triumphant — at nowhere in particular. 

E. B. 



CONTENTS 

I. THE MORALS OF THE MODERN HEROINE I 

II. " THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST " iS 

III. COMMON OR GARDEN BOOKS 49 

IV. THE CHILD IN LITERATURE 73 
V. CONTEMPORARY POETS 97 

VI. THE LITERATURE OF DEMOCRACY II 5 

VII. STRONG MEAT FOR THE MASSES I37 

VIII. THE BOOKS OF THE BOURGEOISIE I 55 

IX. THE TORCH-BEARERS 1 74 

X. THE LITTLE MEMBER I9O 

XI. MR. SLUDGE, THE MEDIUM 2o6 

XII. "upon MAKING THE MOST OF LIFE*' 226 

XIII. THE PSYCHOLOGY OF PAIN 24I 

ENVOY 254 



AT THE SIGN OF THE 
HOBBY-HORSE 

I 

THE MORALS OF THE MODERN HEROINE 

WHEN a "stream of tendency" manifests it- 
self in literature, investigation usually leads 
one to distant fountains as its source, and the origin 
of the stream may often prove to be some impulse 
not obvious in the outward manifestations. 

To find this underlying impulse is always more 
interesting than to study the actual form of the 
manifestation itself. As an example : I was for years 
unable to penetrate the dry and dreary fastnesses 
of any history of America or any history of Ameri- 
can literature. At about the third chapter I always 
fell into a complete coma of ennui, and until very 
recently I remained entirely ignorant of what hap- 
pened after the settlement of Jamestown, and 
owned not even a groping idea of who succeeded 
Michael Wigglesworth upon the completion of his 
cheerful epic concerning the Day of Doom. The 

[ • ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

difficulty was, the moment one opened a hungry 
mental mouth, every writer on those two portent- 
ous topics immediately quenched appetite with dry 
ashes of uncorrelated facts, and one promptly and 
vociferously declined to go on with the meal. This 
at least was true until Woodrow Wilson and Bar- 
rett Wendell recognized what was lacking. Now I 
can rattle you off whole folios of information on 
these hitherto detested topics. Wilson's five big 
volumes are as vivid as a novel. One was driven 
to the consumption of midnight electricity in order 
to follow the adventures of that fascinating Vir- 
ginian, George Washington, or neglected social 
duties to make sure which side won in the War of 
1812. 

Wendell, too, can take one unresistingly through 
all the wearying provincialism of early American 
letters, showing why we lay so far apart from the 
rich stream of English thought ; why a seccant mo- 
rality forbade the flowers of beauty to blossom upon 
our transplanted tree. It was merely a question of 
dry subjects being handled by minds sufficiently 
vigorous to digest a large mass of incidents, to point 
out the origins of facts and their tendencies. 

It ought to be possible, dealt with in this way, 
to find even the modern novel interesting. That 
the general impulse visible in this form of literary 



MORALS OF THE MODERN HEROINE 

expression is toward the breaking down of the old 
accepted laws of behaviour is a clamant fact. Why 
this should be so it might be amusing, if not in- 
structive, to discover. 

Fundamental morals, of course, alter little from 
age to age : some general law of conduct being ob- 
viously necessary to make feasible the life in com- 
mon. Thou shalt not kill ; thou shalt not steal ; 
nor lie, nor covet thy neighbour's wife, forever 
remain the four cornerstones of society. But while 
these basic rules must always serve as what a young 
Japanese poet, in a moment of lyric ardour, has 
denominated " the social glue," there is no one 
thing more subject to the vagaries of fashion than 
the smaller morals, so to speak, — those refinements 
of thought and behaviour which form the morals 
of the non-criminal classes, — of such folk as our- 
selves, who have daily to beg that we be not led 
into temptation, but who rarely even contemplate 
any real egregiousness of conduct. 

Can one imagine, for example, any two standards 
further apart — more separated by the whole dia- 
meter of thought — than those of, say, a wealthy 
young New Yorker who interests himself in reform- 
work in the East-side slums, and those of a young 
Roman patrician of the time of the great Julius ? 
And yet both of these men would give adherence 

[ 3 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

to the simpler code, that murder, theft, lying, and 
cowardice were unthinkable temptations. The Ro- 
man would look upon the modern sociologist as a 
fantastic fool, and the earnest young reformer would 
consider the Italian as no better than a gross and 
selfish pagan ; and yet both would be gentlemen, 
with a high sense of duty. These fashions In ethics 
must naturally find their expression in literature; 
that mirror of the human mind in which we see 
reflected not only our own faces, but the faces of 
all our ancestors. In which we behold the like- 
nesses of those shadowy entities which stretch end- 
lessly behind us, layer on layer of life ; out of which 
we have emerged, — ourselves by one more shadow, 
— and from which in turn other endless processions 
of figures are to appear. It is into literature, then, 
that we must look to find depicted our moral linea- 
ments, and in it to see formulated the semblance 
of our ideals, and the ideals of those who have 
created us and our aspirations. 

In our European civilization there has always 
been adeliciously contradictory attitude in the mind 
of the male — until recently almost the exclusive 
maker of literature — toward his female. While 
never willing to admit her equality with himself, 
either mental or moral, he has yet constantly re- 
quired of her, has constantly urged upon her, a 

[4] 



MORALS OF THE MODERN HEROINE 

sublimation of behaviour which he was amiably 
reluctant to demand of himself or of his fellows. 
The ewigweiblicbe — the eternal feminine — of his 
dream has seesawed between the passionless god- 
dess and the greedy child. Grey-eyed Athene, — 
pure wisdom and justice, — "stern daughter of the 
voice of God," and that naughty blooming lady 
who came glowing from the sea to set all men by 
the ears, were equally his ideal of our unlucky sex. 
Naturally, it has kept us busy trying to assume 
both parts satisfactorily ; and, considering how ear- 
nestly we have endeavoured to meet these conflict- 
ing demands upon our moral talents, it does seem 
hard that we have earned only a general and invid- 
ious reputation for capriciousness and incompre- 
hensibility. ^^ Souvent femme varie " ? — One would 
think so indeed, under such stress for versatility ! 

In classic letters one finds the heroine, the ideal 
woman, varying from Antigone to Medea; from 
Phaedra to Penelope ; and, tucked in between these 
extremes of virtues and vices on the heroic scale, 
an endless chain of rosy, smiling, comfortable young 
persons, with the morals of rabbits and the mentality 
of butterflies. From the relish with which the authors 
lingered over the charms of these ladies' persons, 
and the piquancy of their daring improprieties, one 
rather suspects that on the whole the latter were 

[ 5 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

the ones they found most to their taste, though in 
loftier moments they imagined their heroines in 
nobler mould. 

The coming of Christianity swept both types into 
the Index Expurgatorius, and substituted the hys- 
teric saint of visions and self-macerations. Here was 
a brand-new character for the overworked female to 
enact; yet, in her facile good-nature, she threw her- 
self into the required attitude with the old enthusi- 
asm. The very quaintest heroine of all fiction is to 
be found in the Lives of the Saints; meanwhile the 
Early Fathers were calling her by the most oppro- 
brious names, — damning her up and down, — and 
she patiently going into ecstasies and never answer- 
ing back ! No wonder the male of our kind has said 
we were incomprehensible ! 

But the nun, the mystic, and the saint grow shadowy 
at last, and who is this lovely lady we see stealing 
through the vague golden dawn of the Renaissance? 
Ah! — behold the "white feet of Nicolette '' step- 
ping shyly to meet that sweet knight Aucassin. 
Behind her follows golden-headed Guinevere, the 
Lily Maid of Astolat, the Lady of Shalott, and that 
fair company amidst whom we discern Beatrice, 
Iseult of the silver hands, bella Simonetta, and La 
Joconde. Personally, these are my favourites of all 
les belles dames de temps jadiSy with their braided hair 

[6] 



MORALS OF THE MODERN HEROINE 

and their folded hands, their meek lashes and their 
fine pale brows ; ladies moulct douce^ who were all fire 
and dew, all passion and purity and tender grace : — 

** Was a lady such a lady. 

Cheeks so round, and lips so red. 

On the neck the small face buoyant 

Like a bell flower o'er its bed ?" 

cries Browning in an ecstasy of reminiscence of them, 
and adds wistfully, — 

<* What 's become of all the gold, used to hang and brush their 

bosoms ? 
I feel chilly, and grown old.*' 

But they too passed, and are with the snows of 
yester-year; and with the full day of the Renaissance 
the frisky young person of classic times returned, 
and with her the great-statured woman of heroic 
moral inches, to share the homage of the man in love 
with the shadow of antiquity. It was a sort of a hy- 
brid cross between the two, who stalked and strutted 
through the interminable pages of Mademoiselle de 
Scudery's romances and the verbose volumes of 
Richardson. Bernard Shaw says that the men of the 
eighteenth century did not regard woman as an indi- 
vidual but as an institution, and the heroine of the 
eighteenth-century romance, " the delicate female," 
was merely the reflection, the feminine shadow, of 
the Man of Feeling — that intolerable prig, " whose 

[7] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

mild eye," the poet tells us, " beamed with benevo- 
lence," and in whose bosom pulsed 

'* That ecstatic and exulting throb 
Which virtue's votary feels when he sums up 
The thoughts and actions of a w^ell-spent day.'* 

Fancy the pompous self-consciousness of a per- 
son who experienced ecstatic and exulting throbs 
because he had behaved himself for twenty-four 
hours ! Naturally, the heroines had to be of a very 
superior quality of institution to live up to this sort 
of thing. 

But of a virtue ! — Witness Clarissa of the iron- 
bound impeccability. And of a meekness and 
propriety ! — Of which the heroine of Sir Charles 
Grandison is an example raised to the nth power. 
Poor dear Miss Byron waits patiently through five 
quarto volumes for her magnificent young man to 
commit himself 

" Sir Charles conducted me to the cedar parlour, where 
were already my aunt and my grandmama. He sat down, 
and with a manly yet respectful air, his voice gaining 
strength as he proceeded, thus delivered himself: — 

" ' Ever admirable Miss Byron, never was a man more 
particularly circumstanced than he before you. . . . Yet 
in so particular a situation, although v^^hat I have to say, 
may, I presume, be collected from w^hat you know of my 
story 5 and though my humble application to Miss Byron 

[8] 



MORALS OF THE MODERN HEROINE 

for her favour, and to you ladies, for your interest with her, 
have not been discouraged, something, however, may be 
necessary to be said in this audience, of the state of my own 
heart for the sake of this dear lady's delicacy and yours. I 
am not insensible to beauty, but beauty of person only 
never yet had power over more than my eye ; to which it 
gave a pleasure like that which it receives from the flowers 
of a gay parterre. , . . Had not my heart been out of reach 
of personal attractions. Miss Byron in the first hour that 
I saw her would have left me no other choice ; but when 
I had the honour of conversing with her I observed in her 
mind and behaviour that true dignity, delicacy, and noble 
frankness, which I ever thought characteristic of the sex, 
but never met with in equal degree but in one lady. I soon 
found that my admiration of her fine qualities was likely 
to lead me into a gentler yet more irresistible passion. I 
found Miss Byron's graces had stolen so imperceptibly into 
my heart as already to have made an impression on it too 
deep for my tranquility.' " 

And there are six more pages of this exhilarating 
love-making before he has done, and the ever ad- 
mirable Miss Byron can seize the chance to get in 
a word edgewise, and accept him before he can draw 
breath to go on. 

Here was the goddess again ; in respectable, gen- 
teel, eighteenth-century guise this time ; and to 
counterbalance her, Fielding revived that naughty, 
pleasing contrast after which the masculine mind 

[9] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

lusted when it laid aside its wig and sword and 
unbent itself over its punch. 

By the time the Early Victorian period was 
reached, virtue, propriety, and colourlessness reigned 
supreme. The naughty charmer was for the moment 
in exile ; but in the meanwhile, for the first time 
in the history of literature, women had begun to 
write about themselves. Miss Burney's Evelina 
was barely distinguishable from her man-made con- 
geners, but with Miss Austen one began to catch 
a glimpse of what women thought of themselves 
and of other members of their sex. It is the quality 
of genius to be of no period, and Miss Austen's 
women are as modern and as ancient as are the 
lovely creations of Shakespeare. Elizabeth Bennet 
and Miss Emma Woodhouse are the sort of women 
we play bridge with, serve with on charitable com- 
mittees, and whom our brothers marry ; just those 
good, kind, friendly creatures whom we ask to din- 
ner, and whose discipline of their children we enjoy 
criticizing. So one is hardly justified in judging the 
woman's heroine in literature by those of that rare 
feminine bird, a genius. 

The first Victorian woman important in letters 
was George Eliot, whom Sidney Lanier and John 
Addington Symonds, and even William Dean How- 
ells, have thought worthy of the highest place. But 

[ lo] 



MORALS OF THE MODERN HEROINE 

already two men, much greater than she, had bro- 
ken the mould of the impeccable heroine whom 
Scott, for all his skill, had been willing to accept as 
the wooden figure-head of his romances. 

Dickens swung between a plump, rosy, cosy, silly 
little dear — the sort of person who is a Dolly Var- 
den at sixteen, becoming inevitably, by the lapse of 
two-score years, another Mrs. Nickleby — and the 
tall, pale, grave person who is Agnes when all goes 
well, but is apt to be transformed into a Lady Ded- 
lock by untoward circumstances. Thackeray, too, 
had once for all drawn a real woman in Becky Sharp, 
— not a good woman, but a real one, of the worser 
sort, — and in Bessie, the protagonist of that little 
lauded, much undervalued story of " Love! the 
Widower," had pictured perhaps the most veracious 
virtuous woman in all English literature. 

So that George Eliot had models which served 
her well when she broke away from the conventions 
in " Janet's Repentance," and when she conceived 
that very modern young lady, Gwendolen Harleth. 
Gwendolen was something of a portent, and was so 
regarded, I recall, when she loomed upon my child- 
ish horizon. I remember seeing my elders shake 
their heads over her vanity and recklessness, her in- 
subordination, and her spiritual aspirations ; though 
I think they hardly realized what a prolific parent she 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

was to become of restless, yearning young persons, 
much concerned as to the state of their souls, and 
making all their relations desperately uncomfortable 
by their unbalanced antics. She came upon us at a 
time which I have since learned to call " the Blue- 
Bow period." That is to say, the woman who then 
reigned in our hearts, and who adorned the short 
story of our periodical literature, used to straighten 
out the tangles of her existence by the simple ex- 
pedient of putting a blue bow into her adorably curl- 
ing hair. If she found another woman stealing her 
husband's affections, she calmly checkmated the 
deadly wiles of the wicked rival by pinning on a blue 
bow ; the effect of this proving so hypnotic that the 
fascinated male returned at once and permanently to 
his domestic allegiance. It would cure a husband of 
drinking habits ; it lightened the gloom of financial 
misfortunes ; it even atoned for any little stepping 
aside from the path of strict wifely duty on her own 
part. In any stress of circumstance the purchase of 
a yard of ribbon proved a sort of silken and power- 
ful " God Bless Our Home ! " 

How deliciously simple itwould seem if we might 
straighten out our twentieth-century marital compli- 
cations by a mere moment at the bargain counter ! 

It may be imagined how the modernly neurotic 
Gwendolen Harleth startled so simple an atmosphere 

[.2] 



MORALS OF THE MODERN HEROINE 

as this, and one wonders what Nora of " A DolFs 
House " would have thought of such millinery ex- 
pedients. Perhaps if poor Thorvald had thought to 
put a blue bow into his hair, Nora might have stayed 
at home after all ! 

The goddess and the pretty, immoral little hussy 
were not all forgotten by their male literary adorers ; 
but the " mob of gentlewomen, who wrote with 
ease," which sprang up, a thick, lettered crop, in the 
latter half of the nineteenth century, declined to be 
narrowed down to two sharply contrasting types 
of the sex, and one began at last to get what Mere- 
dith calls " the fine shades " of feminine self-revela- 
tion. 

Some very remarkable shades one has got, it must 
be confessed. We have had some tingling shocks to 
our old comfortable prepossessions in the last half- 
century. As early as the days of the Bronte sisters, 
the ugly woman had issued a startling declaration of 
the right of the ill-featured female to emotion and 
romance. Up to that day, none but the beautiful were 
supposed to move in the enchanted pays du tendre. 
Research fails to show, in all the literature of the 
male, one really plain heroine. She must be fair or 
she could not hope to be considered as an applicant 
for the place. So it was considered immensely piquant 
when the ugly, passionate little governess from York- 

[ >3 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

shire actually pictured another ugly little governess 
inspiring a passion and posing as a romantic figure. 
Since then has occurred another revolution made in 
favour of the Femme de 'Trente Ans, A heroine used 
to be, in the old days of masculine literary rule, not 
only beautiful, but, as a necessary concomitant, deli- 
ciously young. The blooming chits had it all their 
own way. The woman of thirty had by that age either 
made her romantic market or else retired sombrely 
into the innocuous desuetude of old maidenhood, 
and served literary needs only as a ridiculous and 
jealous foil, as a duenna, or as an assistant of the 
emotional stresses of her younger sister. She passed 
secret billets-doux, or waited to warn while one trem- 
bled at a rendezvous by an aged oak under the mid- 
night moon. Mrs. Craik, better known to her large 
clientele as Miss Mulock, was, if memory serves me 
rightly, the first to have the courage to suggest that 
a woman might suffer from romantic emotions after 
twenty-five without being wholly abnormal ; and so 
far have we progressed beyond the mid- Victorian 
ideals that that erstwhile youthful dweller in the 
limelight is now supposed to be meekly at school, 
and not troubling her pigtailed juvenile head about 
matters fit only for her elders. Even women of forty 
are allowed to have affairs, and that charming ro- 
mance known as "The Baby's Grandmother" was 

[H] 



MORALS OF THE MODERN HEROINE 

received without derision; it even inspired sym- 
pathy. 

We are now in the period of the full emancipa- 
tion of the heroine — an emancipation which she 
owes largely to her own sex. We have at last a copious 
body of documents setting forth women's impres- 
sions as to woman's real nature, and it would be ex- 
tremely interesting to take up these documents for 
careful comparison and examination, and submit them 
to learned bodies for discussion ; to analyze, gen- 
eralize, and philosophize upon them and discover 
what has been contributed by them to the sum of 
human truth. Do their self-revelations cast any real 
light upon the complexities of the soul of that half 
of the race which men have declared to be capri- 
cious and incomprehensible; which they confess in 
their famous toast to be the unsolvable conundrum : 
" Woman ! We can't make her out, but we '11 never 
give her up " ? 

Two men have written of woman from this mod- 
ern aspect, but it is safe to say that Hedda Gabler 
and Candida would never have existed if the Bron- 
tes and George Eliot had not broken the ground 
on which they stand ; and yet, in the conceptions of 
both men can be discerned in new guise, traces of 
the old alterating male dreams of the female : Hedda 
Gabler, Nora, and the rest, are but the old domi- 

[ -5 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

nating goddess type subtly modernized and mas- 
querading as contemporary Norwegians, while Can- 
dida and her sisters are suspiciously like present-day 
versions of the supple unscrupulous jade of classic 
letters. 

We must read women's books if we would get 
new light upon the woman question ; if we would 
study the moral aspect of the matter, and consider 
the soul of the sex from a really new angle of vision. 
And reading these women's books by the light of 
our old prejudices, we certainly have the startled sen- 
sation^that we have heretofore been moving about 
in a feminine world unrealized. Either those mild 
brows have been concealing the most astonishing 
things, or else the woman of our epoch has suffered 
a sudden change into something new and strange, and 
there would seem to be no tie of heredity between 
the mother of yesterday and the daughter of to-day. 

Patient Griselda was long exhibited to us, in 
the era of the masculine domination of letters, as a 
most admirable and to-be-duly-copied person. She 
was a proof that persistent meek acquiescence could 
overcome at last the tyrannical spirit of her master ; 
but a pretty wide acquaintance with the books written 
by women does not include even one lady of letters 
who urges meekness upon her sisters as a desirable 
virtue. Quite the contrary. What Henry Arthur 

[ i6] 



MORALS OF THE MODERN HEROINE 

Jones calls " that rabble of petticoats/' which move 
through modern fiction, clothe ladies who havea most 
vivid idea oftheir own value, and an equally vivid idea 
of having their own way. If Petruchio were to throw 
plates about in our time with any idea of subduing 
the modern Katherine, he would probably find him- 
self promptly ducking to avoid their swift return, 
or would be haled into court to show cause why he 
should n't pay persistent alimony to salve the wounds 
made upon his better half's feelings by what the 
divorce court terms "intolerable cruelty." No; 
meekness under oppression is not a virtue of the 
modern heroine. 

Unquestioning loyalty to the male was another 
belauded virtue of the heroine of the past. She fol- 
lowed her mate cheerfully to the battlefield, the debt- 
or's prison, or even the scaffold. When a gentleman 
cheated at cards, drank more than was good for him, 
flung away his substance in riotous living, or other- 
wise made things uncomfortable, the virtuous hero- 
ine of the past immediately took in plain sewing (she 
never appeared to be capable of any other kind), 
changed her residence to a garret, and lived shiver- 
ingly on what was known as " crusts " ; but she spoke 
no word of reproach, and did the uncomplaining- 
martyr act in its extremest form of aggravating high- 
mindedness. The path of the moral transgressor is 

[ '7] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

not smoothed in this fashion in our day. He has 
domesticated the Recording Angel, and the Critic 
on the Hearth will condone no moral laxities. Not 
only must his private conduct square with the rigid- 
est rules of morality, but even in his finances and 
his politics he must exhibit a standard of behaviour 
so lofty as must prove exhausting even to a hero. 
In a dozen recent tales the hero is called upon to 
resist the most enticing political and financial temp- 
tations, at the peril of punishment at the hands of 
the heroine, who, whether she be his wife or his 
sweetheart, demands of her mate a meticulous and 
subtly perfect conscientiousness ; and if he fails to 
measure up to her exacting level, he gets his punish- 
ment, infallibly. The famous Nora demands even 
more, of course. Poor Thorvald has not only to be 
honest himself, but must be sufficiently high-minded 
to understand why she should n't be ; and Candida's 
husband is expected to be so pure of heart as to 
condone a flirtation such as he himself would not 
for one instant be permitted to indulge in. It would 
almost seem as if the old roles were completely re- 
versed, and it were now the hero who is under obli- 
gation to readjust his loyalty to any and all demands 
made by his exacting heroine. And he gets small 
sympathy for his efforts. It never occurs to any one 
to be sentimental over Thorvald, or to shed tears of 

[ 18] 



MORALS OF THE MODERN HEROINE 

sympathy for Mr. Candida. They are not buoyed 
up by any comforting sense that the pathetic na- 
ture of their sufferings will " make Celiacs tender 
eyes complain," or rouse indignation against the 
trenchant ladies who have brought their proud mas- 
culinity so low. Sweet sixteen will not weep over 
them, nor chivalrous boyhood burn with indignation 
at their wrongs. 

In a very recent and popular book by a lady 
novelist, " The Fruit of the Tree," the heroine, a 
trained nurse, uses her hypodermic needle to put an 
end to the atrocious sufferings of a young married 
woman hurt in an accident ; and after marrying the 
widower, he discovers that she did so shorten the 
life of his first wife. The nurse feels no compunc- 
tion for her act, and in fact resents her new hus- 
band's qualms about it ; and we are made to feel 
that he is rather a cad to be so squeamish over so 
small a matter, and before long he sees it that way 
himself, properly begs pardon, and is restored to 
favour. 

It was curious to observe the attitude of the pub- 
lic — particularly of the feminine public — at the 
representation of Maeterlinck's " Monna Vanna," 
some few years back. This mediaeval Judith being 
called upon to sacrifice her virtue to save her people, 
her husband expressed what — so it seemed to me 

['9] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

— were very natural objections. He was entirely 
willing to give his own life, but he was most reluc- 
tant to purchase his own, or his people's lives, at a 
price he held dearer than theirs or his. When she 
returned from the conqueror's tent, to which she had 
gone without her husband's consent, and announced 
that the suddenly generous ruffian had spared her, 
neither she, nor the women in the audience, seemed 
to experience any emotion other than contempt or 
disgust for the poor, maddened husband who refused 
to accept her account of the meeting. And no one 
seemed to feel that his wrongs lay in the fact that she 
had been trying to save him through his own dishon- 
our. That she had not dishonoured him was merely 
an accident, and not through her intention. The 
general attitude seemed to be that he was making a 
great fuss about nothing, and behaving in the most 
tiresome and ridiculous manner. 

To come to a still more serious matter, in this 
new view of the relation of the sexes, — the very 
keystone of the arch, fidelity of the person and the 
affections, — we find that in this respect also the 
modern heroine has brought about a complete boule- 
versement of the old order. It used to be conceded 
that different codes of honour existed for the two 
sexes. Chastity was the cornerstone of feminine 
morals; once it was removed, the whole fabric fell 

[20] 



MORALS OF THE MODERN HEROINE 

in ruins. That sound, the building might be flawed, 
but it was respected. Fibs were but foibles ; careless- 
ness in money matters was venial. Backbiting, cow- 
ardice, narrowness, bigotry, were pardonable faults, 
if in matters concerning the other sex one was im- 
peccable. On the other hand, man, being after all 
but an imperfectly monogamous animal, might have 
a straying eye and remain a gentleman, if no charge 
of lying, cowardice, or dishonesty could be proved. 
If, however, he cheated at cards, his life among his 
fellows was as completely at an end as was that of 
his mate " when lovely woman stooped to folly." 
How many times has not the tear of sweet sen- 
sibility flowed at the sorrows of that poor lady, 
who, having lost her claim to kindness and respect, 
wandered in the snow, or crept home to die on 
the outraged husband's or father's doorstep. No 
repentance could avail to replace her in the high 
estate she had forfeited. 

** The only art her guilt to cover. 

To hide her shame from every eye. 
To bring repentance to her lover. 
And wring his bosom, was to die." 

The scarlet letter marked her as with the brand 
of Cain; and, like the cheater at cards, she must 
forever wander an exile from the warm precincts of 

[ ^» ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

respectability, later heroism not availing to win back 
the lost regard unless that heroism led to a prompt 
demise. 

The man who cheats at cards still roams an exile, 
but the modern heroine by no means submits to 
atone for her follies by accompanying him. About 
ten years ago, she arose in her might and declined to 
accept judgement from a censorious and hypocritic 
world. " The Superfluous Woman '' was one of the 
first books whose heroine declared her independence 
of the elder morals. She had her little fling, and then 
asked what we were going to do about it ; and we sat 
with our astonished mouths open and had no answer 
ready. Grant Allen echoed with " The Woman Who 
Did," — and she did very naughty things indeed; 
and once again we found ourselves out of our depth 
in the sudden liquefaction of all our old predilections. 
Since which time the modern heroine has taken 
the key of the fields, and is neither to hold nor to 
bind. The Hester Prynne of to-day would make 
scarlet letters fashionable, contract an excellent mar- 
riage, and shortly be leading mothers* meetings in 
Mr. Arthur Dimmesdale*s popular church; and 
the very modernest heroine, like the protagonist 
of "Life's Shop-Window," would probably haugh- 
tily refuse altogether to be, in the old parlance, 
"made an honest woman of," and would reject mar- 



MORALS OF THE MODERN HEROINE 

riage entirely, as too cramping to her new-found 
liberty. 

Females of the very lightest character may set 
up as heroines in honourable heroic circles in our 
tolerant day, and we look forward with prickling 
interest to see what new form of delinquency these 
vigorous ladies will next render respectable by their 
potent patronage. 

These fantastic ethical excursions are in part a 
natural reaction against a weary period of Victorian 
virtue that almost amounted to virtuosity, and partly 
a sowing of literary wild oats by heady femininity, 
new to the liberty of the pen and not yet settled 
down to the sobered middle age of letters. But there 
are underlying reasons more serious than these : 
within the last half-century has occurred a silent, 
slow upheaval of all the bases of our attitude to 
life, and the gentler sex have not had any exclusive 
solidity of footing in the shifting of the moral cen- 
tres of gravity. They too have been casting about 
for a new horizon, for new standards of behaviour 
and of personal responsibility, while science and its 
disquieting discoveries have been levelling the old 
heights and filling the depths. In the jumbling 
and readjustment of the patterns of thought, the 
old models have become inadequate to their needs. 
A period of flux is of course inevitable. Eventu- 

[^3 J 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

ally, no doubt, the heroine who is the ideal of woman 
herself — the expression of her own highest con- 
sciousness of aspiration for herself — will be very 
unlike the contrasted goddess and rogue ; a very 
different person, too, from the fantastic, unclassifi- 
able individual offered us now. She will clarify into 
something more admirable than the woman now 
imagined by women, for the modern heroine does 
not seem to have the elements fitting her to be the 
mother of heroes, — or of heroines either, for that 
matter. 

If she is to be placed apart from all idealism, she 
will have lost something for which her new liberty 
will be small compensation. With all the calumny 
and scorn which men have heaped upon women, 
they have yet kept her an ideal. They have treated 
her much as the Italian fisherman does the image 
of his patron saint : smacked her when in a temper, 
but worshipped her and looked up to her as some- 
thing better than themselves all the while. Now, an 
ideal, even when treated roughly, is a potent thing. 
It assimilates the holder of it to itself, as the green 
leaf turns a chameleon to its own tint ; and all that 
we do and are of the best, results from our value of 
that immediate jewel of our souls. 

It is said that the possibilities of a race may 
always be tested by its attitude to its women. If its 

[ H] 



MORALS OF THE MODERN HEROINE 

estimate of them is low and gross, its development 
will never be high. And the same is true of the indi- 
vidual. No really admirable man, or woman either, 
thinks meanly of women. The welter of European 
savagery in the Middle Ages got its strongest im- 
petus upward through the dreams of chivalry ; and 
if the real women were at all as the poets and paint- 
ers imagined them, their influence is very compre- 
hensible, for they certainly were the dearest creatures ! 
Can one imagine the modern heroine drawing 
a race upward through sheer beauty of soul ? No ; 
even imagination has its limits. 



II 

"THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST" 

THE striking feature of our altering conception 
of life is the gradual growth of the sense of 
personal responsibility. When the classic hero set out 
upon his enthralling adventures, his moral baggage 
was ordinarily so light that he could have tied it up in 
a handkerchief and carried it on his staff across his 
shoulder. The real equipment for his career was that 
some susceptible nymph or goddess had cast a fa- 
vourable glance at his straight features, or his superb 
muscles, and had immediately presented him with 
a sword, or shield, or a Medusa's head, which gave 
him the most unsportsmanlike advantage over his 
antagonists. Or, if she had no such valuable gifts 
handy, v/henever matters got a bit uncomfortable 
she rushed to the rescue in the shape of a cloud, or 
mist, or some natural phenomenon ; and while he 
stood still, like a puzzled ox, the lady obligingly 
pulled him out of the hole he had stupidly got 
himself into, and he reaped all the credit to be had 
from the encounter. One was not a hero because 
of superior strength, or address, but because of hav- 
ing a friend among the higher powers. 

The stories of Theseus, Perseus, Achilles, and 
[26] 



THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST 

Hercules are all proofs of this, and even the later 
Christian knights — while more, certainly, was de- 
manded of them — depended quite shamefully upon 
magic blades and shields and tarn-helms, or talis- 
mans that would to-day be barred under the strict 
Marquis of Queensberry rules. 

Oddly enough, the first signs of self-dependence 
began to be visible in the picaresque romances, and 
even then heroic abilities were not moral or physical, 
but, very curiously, mental. Superior and ruthless 
cunning helped the hero to emerge victorious from 
whatever adventures befell him, moral qualities play- 
ing no part in his equipment. The placid indifference 
of that lago of fairy lore, Hop-o'-my-Thumb, to 
the wretched fate of the giant^s daughters is typi- 
cal. Reineke Fuchs and Gil Bias went on their light- 
hearted route to good fortune, blandly insouciant 
of the pangs of every one stupider than themselves; 
as wantonly and cheerfully indifferent to the suffer- 
ings of the incompetent as either the classic or Chris- 
tian knights, who had been able to achieve their suc- 
cesses by influence with the heavenly rulers. A sense 
of the importance of moral qualities in heroic person- 
ages is a modern phase of sensibility. The eighteenth- 
century mind began to have glimmerings of this claim 
of ethics, but a hero who would shed " Virtue's 
tear," and who had a splendid fashion of flinging his 

[ ^7] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

knitted silk purse about to relieve what was known 
as " the pangs of penury," was felt to have done all 
that was required of him. A bland benevolence was 
his favourite pose, and the recipients of his generos- 
ity were expected to bathe his munificent fingers in 
grateful tears, go down on their knees and implore 
Heaven^s choicest blessings on his priggish head, or 
hope for no more knitted purses or soup-tickets. 

It shows how far we have travelled along virtue's 
thorny road when one reflects how differently our 
generation would receive the story of Pamela, which 
in its day aroused the sweetest and softest emotions. 
What would be thought of a twentieth-century " Mr. 
B.," who amorously chased his own servant-maid 
about through three volumes ; and when at last her 
obdurate virtue drove him to offer her marriage, was 
at once elevated upon a pinnacle of adoring public 
admiration because he permitted the new wife to eat 
at the same table with him, and bestowed a small farm 
upon her aged and indigent parents ? — One's par- 
ents had an immutable habit of age and indigence in 
that century, no matter how young and blooming 
one's self might be. 

The whole attitude of the eighteenth century 
much resembled that of a conspicuous American, of 
whom Thomas Reed of Maine once said: "What 
I like about Theodore Roosevelt is his boyish 

[ 28 ] 



THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST 

enthusiasm over his discovery of the Ten Com- 
mandments." 

As far as research discloses, it would seem that 
the morally earnest young man had his true birth at 
Oxford about the middle of the nineteenth century, 
and he was generally from Balliol, and had come 
under the influence of its famous Master, Jowett. 

The portentousness of that young man ! If one 
would see him in all his perfection, one must read 
the life and letters of John Addington Symonds. 
Mere words are inadequate to express how seriously 
he took himself. Conscientiousness was his foible. 
Far more important than the sidereal system was his 
nervousness as to the correctness of every posture 
of his mind and soul toward the Eternal verities. 
And this serious young person has been the pro- 
genitor of a prolific and conscientious brood. It is 
amusing to think that while the modern heroine has 
been taking the bit in her teeth and getting her rest- 
less heels over the moral shafts, the modern hero has 
been growing more and more meticulously careful 
of his behaviour. Instead of flinging his purse about 
with what Cyrano de Bergerac calls ^^ quelle geste ! " 
of superb benevolence, he begins to doubt whether 
he has any right to own a purse at all. In his callow 
youth he took orders in some lay brotherhood, or 
went even to the length of being an out-and-out 

[^9] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

curate, and laboriously contracted a consumption 
while toiling in the slums, finally dying heroically, 
surrounded by hysterically regretful Boys' Clubs. 
But even these extreme measures do not satisfy the 
greedy conscience of the contemporary hero. He 
has abandoned mere curacy as inadequate, and in- 
sists upon divesting himself of all property whatso- 
ever; Tolstoically labouring in a sweat-shop under 
the most unsanitary conditions, and satisfying his 
desire for self-sacrifice and social regeneration by 
doing what a melancholy seamstress, with a bundle 
of unfinished male garments under her arm, once 
described as "light panting." 

Here is a far cry indeed from Theseus, or Hop- 
o'-my-Thumb. Hercules span for Omphale through 
fatuous amorousness ; but imagine Hercules setting 
about a readjustment of the inequalities of life by un- 
dertaking " light panting.'' This seriousness invades 
and demoralizes all our art. Such a book as Fogazar- 
ro's " Saint " was one of the best sellers, principally 
because it was a demonstration of the extremest over- 
tone of conscientiousness. Of the two sorts, one finds 
it in one's heart to prefer Gil Bias, or Hop-o'-my- 
Thumb. I even prefer Achilles, or that big savage 
of the Saga, — Olaf, son of Howard the Halt, who, 
gripping his enemy in his hands, swam with him out 
to sea, and "lifting him up he broke Thormod's 

[30] 



THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST 

back across his knee, after which he let him sink in 
the water. And," — adds the Saga ominously, — 
"ever after have men deemed it uncouth to sail 
anigh there." 

An extract from a letter, written by a publisher 
learned in the tastes of the contemporary reading 
pubHc, is enlightening as to this tendency to ear- 
nestness. 

" If you really wish to write a popular book, you had 
better choose for your theme a question of conscience — a 
social question for choice. The more strained and extreme 
the point of view is, the better. Let your leading character 
set everybody by the ears with his or her moral qualms, 
and I think I can promise you plenty of editions. That is 
an even better recipe for concocting a ' seller ' than exploit- 
ing the woman-question. My own opinion is that the eman- 
cipated woman is on the wane, though I don't say that 
money cannot yet be made out of her — provided you make 
her sufficiently serious in her peccadilloes. Any humor- 
ousness about them would be fatal." 

The basis of this new attitude of mind reflected 
in our literature is the sudden overturning by sci- 
entific research of all our old fundamental beliefs. 
Mankind, who had been the centre of the universe, 
who had pictured it as created solely for his needs, 
who had seen the stars as finding their highest pur- 
poses in effecting his fate, or watching over the success 

[ 31 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

or failure of his bean-crop — who imagined a Deity- 
flattered by his homage, or falling into tantrums 
over his disrespect — found himself suddenly called 
brother to the ape. He, who had only to observe a 
respectable code of morals to be received into eternal 
happiness, with all the august honours due to a con- 
descending monarch, was brutally informed that in 
ethical development he was decidedly inferior to the 
ants and the bees. That scientific anarchist, Darwin, 
snatched man's crown from his head, and showed him 
that his existence was not nearly so necessary to the 
earth as was that of the humble worm which he used 
for fish-bait. When one has been the petted heir of 
all visible creation, to be suddenly cast out of one's 
estate and made to work for one's moral living in a 
fierce struggle of the fittest makes one prone to take 
a serious view of life. One begins meekly to reckon 
up one's available assets, moral and mental, and to 
endeavour to oflfer proof by one's behaviour of being 
fitted to survive. 

J. A. Symonds, writing to George Miller, says : — 

" I, for my part, feel paralyzed by the confusion round 
me, science and religion clashing, no creeds emergent, so- 
cial conditions shifting like quicksands. In phantasmago- 
rias of old literatures rising up to mock our modern style : 
the whole fabric of humanity, within and without, rocking 
and surging in earthquake throes. We live in anni mirabtles^ 

[ 30 



THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST 

and the nervous fluids of our brains, instead of being con- 
centrated on single thoughts, are dispersed through a thou- 
sand channels. There is little productive energy, much 
febrile excitement of interests ; apparent omniscience, real 
blindness, and impotent drifting on all sides. I am inclined 
to wrap my cloak about me, to bow my head and wait, 
though watching from a ruined tower ; to die the child of 
a turbid generation, with eyes clouded by the dust kicked 
up around me, dust of falling creeds and systems and old 
buildings, with ears deafened by all sorts of cries ; war cries, 
costermonger cries, demagogic eloquence, pulpit vacuities, 
and innumerable other roarings of the vasty deep of void 
sound. If there is a future for man, these things, from the 
pinnacle of some immeasurable far-ofF star, may be coor- 
dinated — the broken light resolved into one white beam." 

One must admit that, put this way, it does sound 
a serious situation. 

There is a certain strain of healthy animalism in 
our Anglo-Saxon race : a cautious tendency not to 
go too far, a saving salt of humour and optimism that 
has heretofore kept us from being entirely swamped 
by seriousness. Even Symonds, his biographer de- 
clares, after having plumbed the depths of dejection 
experienced a reaction. 

" He had carried speculation in the abstract, and auda- 
cious interrogation of the universe, to the utmost limits. It 
was inevitable that he would ultimately abandon the vacuum 

[33] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

of abstractions in which he was stifling, for the concrete 
world of man and things about him. Having boldly plunged 
into the abyss, having learned that, when sounded by the 
plummet of the human intellect, it is actually void and bot- 
tomless, the instinct of self-preservation caused him to cling 
to the antithesis of the void, the concrete manifestations of 
life. . . . The Diary he kept loses its introspective tone. 
Objective life, and his keen capacity for enjoying it, once 
more assert themselves." 

Symonds himself says : — 

" As for the garbage of the world, and the really good 
things in it, I cannot weigh them against each other. In 
the infinity of the universe they seem to emerge and be- 
come as one. At all events for me, who am a grain of clay 
upon this tiniest of little worlds, and who live for less than 
a moment in the short minute of its terraqueous aeons, 
when I think of the chaos of greater universes, and the 
irrevocable circles of eternity, and when I remember it was 
but yesterday that the like of me imagined sun, moon, and 
stars made to give them light — I fold the wings of aspira- 
tion and of discontent, and wait in patience till the chem- 
istry of the years resolves me into my elements." 

Curiously enough. Whitman's poems first helped 
him to readjust his mind to cheerfulness in his dis- 
inheritance. He says : — 

" I find it difficult to speak about ' The Leaves of 
Grass * without exaggeration. Whitman's intense emo- 
[34] 



THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST 

tional feeling for the universe, his acute sense of the good- 
liness of life in all its aspects, the audacity of his mood — 
as of one eager to cast himself upon illimitable billows, 
assured whether he sank there or swam it would be well 
with him, confident the while that sink he could not. . . . 
This concrete passionate faith in the world, combined with 
the man's multiform experience, his human sympathy, his 
thrill of love and comradeship, sent a current of vitalizing 
magnetism through my speculations." 

It was as if the shivering, disinherited outcast 
had been overtaken by a brawny workman going 
whistling to his task, perfectly contented with the 
meagre meal in his dinner-pail, and refusing to be- 
lieve in chaos and cataclysms so long as he had mus- 
cles and a job. One can see Symonds straighten 
himself up and step out, ashamed to have been 
polysyllabically caterwauling about the loss of his 
heavenly mansions in the face of this other man's 
content with small things. 

This growth and change in the moral attitude of 
the generations has nowhere been more subtly ex- 
pressed than in Anthony Trollope's Parliamentary 
series. The old Duke of Omnium — a splendid, 
insolent nobleman — lives and dies in the lordly 
calm of belief in his own importance and value in 
the scheme of things. He could not imagine try- 
ing to prove his right to survive by the nervous, 

[ 35] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

conscientious public services of his successor and 
nephew, Plantagenet Palliser — Lady Glencora's 
poor " Planty Pal." And their son, in turn, has 
passed so far beyond both his father's and his great 
uncle's attitude as not to bother over the matter 
at all, since it is impossible of solution : he refuses 
to take himself with any seriousness whatever, and 
merely tries to be a decent gentleman, already being 
a duke by the rather absurd accident of events. 

This fundamental instinct of animal wholesome- 
ness has preserved to us a slight remnant of opti- 
mism, but the Hterature of the rest of the western 
world, being without this preservative salt, has sunk 
into the utterest night and blackness of moral self- 
consciousness. Hauptman, Ibsen, Echegaray, Tol- 
stoi, Huysmans, in their gloomy welter of pessimism, 
have been urged upon us by those critics impressed 
with the importance of being earnest, as models 
beside which our own inept and romantic hopeful- 
ness should stand meekly abashed ; and as a result 
we find ourselves nervously asking ourselves when 
we sit down to write, if we too really have a mes- 
sage? For if we haven't a message, if we make no 
gloomy guesses at the riddle of the universe, if 
we can't offer some socialistic recipe for making all 
the idlers and drunkards and scoundrels prosperous 
and happy, if we don't feel really penetrated with 

[ 36] 



THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST 

the deplorableness of things in general, and with 
special reprobation of the vulgar tendency of the 
bourgeoisie to have possessions of their own, then 
that proves incontrovertibly that we are mere bru- 
tal, thick-headed Anglo-Saxons, with no talent for 
Art with a capital A. This attitude is beginning to 
work its will upon us* Every young man or young 
woman who sits down to-day to prove his or her 
genius, has passionately to suck his or her pencil 
and "show up" something: whether that capital- 
ists are noisome vermin ; or that we are each and 
every one of us responsible for the naughty behav- 
iour of certain unmentionable females, who prefer 
their naughtiness to housework at good wages ; or 
that we should blush to remember that poor hard- 
working burglars and assassins are subjected to the 
ennui of residence in our penitentiaries ; or that 
pretty nearly every earthly thing we do, or don't do, 
is decidedly wrong, and we had n't ought to. No 
hero to-day — except in our very lightest literature 
— will consent to own a penny until all the washer- 
women in the United States have had their humble 
human needs for 45 H. P. motor-cars supplied ; 
and in really superior and inner heroic circles St. 
Francis himself would be looked upon as little better 
than a greedy debauche by contrast with the rarified 
exquisiteness of the modern moral attitude. 

[ 37 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

Of course, with our usual Anglo-Saxon inherent 
abhorrence of logic, the bearers of messages usu- 
ally permit things to come out right in the end. 
The capitalist repents, loses all his loathsome wealth, 
retires to the simple life in a House Beautiful, 
— built after the inexpensive plans in the back of 
the " Lady's Home Journal," — and writes another 
book on gardening. The naughty female is entirely 
restored to respectability by the efficient ministra- 
tions of a dear little child, of about ten, who still talks 
baby-talk — and so on. No wonder the critics deal 
roundly with us for our inferiority to the Continen- 
tal literatures, where there is no such feeble-minded 
letting-up in earnestness, and where the last page, 
or last act, is as thoroughly uncomfortable as the 
first. 

One speaks frivolously of these things, if, like Dr. 
Watts's dogs who bark and bite, " it is our nature to " ; 
but *t is a poor cold heart that would not be touched 
by all this earnestness in modern literature, this seri- 
ousness which has its origin in an almost pathetic 
eagerness to adapt itself to a new point of view, to 
find a moral footing in the flux of creeds, to prove 
that the heart of man must make for itself some 
religion — if not of an anthropomorphic God, then 
of its fellow men. If Science will take away our old 
celestial paradise, our subterranean hell, then we 

[38] 



THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST 

must find an imagined subliminal heaven of virtue 
in our ideal man, we must picture purgatories as 
existing in what is known as " our midst." 

Stevenson was almost the first among really mod- 
ern authors to accept the situation high-heartedly ; 
with a good courage and relish for mere living, what- 
ever the end of living might be. To his point of 
view, to that vigorous savour of existence, we shall 
have to return if we are again to produce matter 
really worth while, and, perhaps, when the pendu- 
lum ceases to swing violently between the extremes 
of the arc, between the paralysis of pessimism and 
the strabismus of sentimentalism, we may redis- 
cover the old joie de vivre that seems just now to 
have no place in our modern letters. 

Life just as it is, is the important thing, not some 
grotesque fetish of prepossession which we set up 
to worship in its place. Life, no doubt, is blacker in 
spots than the most chlorotic pessimist can picture 
it, is more golden with joy and goodness than the 
inventor of Utopias can conceive ; but it is never all 
of one colour. The gold and the sable flow and min- 
gle, and weave across one another as swiftly as the 
undulant iris upon the surface of a blown bubble, 
where we no sooner say, "Here is emerald," than 
emerald is rose, and rose deepens to purple while we 
look, and is silver before we can cry that it is blue. 

[39] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

In places the black and aureate lie as clear-barred and 
contrasted as a wasp's back ; but for the most part 
the pattern is as intricate as a Moslem arabesque, 
or the gold is filmed by darkness, the sable paled 
by the gold. 

It is relish for that splendid, dazzling, daunting 
pattern of life that we lack : a relish that carried to 
passion is genius. To take some part of the pattern 
and retrace it for us clearly, so that we catch for 
an instant the play of its damascene, is to make lit- 
erature. 

Three thousand years ago a blind man lived in 
Ionia, having this supreme relish for life, and he was 
irresistibly impelled to tell about it — about all of 
it : about battle and murder and sudden death ; the 
grind of spears on shields ; the clang and whistle of 
swords ; the harsh clamour of chariot wheels; and in 
the midst of it all, a baby's frightened squeal at his 
father's plumed helmet, and the half-anxious, half- 
tender smiles of the parents into each other's eyes 
above the downy head hidden in the mother's breast. 
He loved equally the flames and shrieks of a falling 
city, and the bashful protests of a middle-aged sol- 
dier reduced to a branch of leaves for all his costume, 
pleading with the embarrassed young lady oversee- 
ing the family wash. Out of this man's appetite for 
everything about him we have reconstructed a whole 

[40] 



THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST 

civilization utterly passed and vanished. We know 
how the women lived and laboured; what they 
embroidered upon their household hangings, and 
how the men fought, and ruled, and quarrelled, 
and made love. He joyed in the "wine dark sea"; 
in the names of the ships ; in the grave councils of 
the bearded kings. He described the adornments 
wrought by the armourers on the shields, with all 
the enthusiasm and particularity of a modern fash- 
ion-writer dwelling on a French gown. He had no 
special moral prepossessions, he had no message, 
and no lesson. He simply saw and loved life, and 
still, after three thousand years, we see and love life 
in his pages and find our morals and lessons there, 
each according to his predilections. 

Long centuries after, a Spanish soldier whiled away 
the lagging hours of imprisonment by telling of life 
— so different, and yet so always the same. He laughs 
at his poor foolish Don, and loves him, and surrounds 
him with peasants and thieves, and asses and inn- 
keepers, and makes us see for ourselves that wild, 
squalid, pompous, fantastic Iberian world of knavery 
and piety, of cruelty and chivalry ; and we weep and 
laugh, and bring away lessons deeper than any the 
moralists can teach us in whole libraries of polemics 
or dogmas. 

Later, an Englishman spreads a pattern of exist- 

[4. ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

ence before our eyes, more intricate and complete than 
any man has done before or since. And he again has 
no prepossessions and no message. He dotes upon 
his fools and his villains quite as much as upon his 
heroes. His fools stumble upon wisdom ; his vil- 
lains have their impulses of tenderness and courage; 
his heroes are at moments either villains or fools. 
The whole warp of life he shows us plaited equally 
of sable and of gold. The innocent are often defeated 
and foully dealt with. The good are betrayed and 
misled into wrong. Good intentions, he makes us 
understand, are not sufficient to atone for unwisdom. 
And around and through the tragedy and comedy 
of life he sees the patient, unreckoning loveliness of 
nature. The jflowers bloom, the dawn and the moon 
shine softly, unmoved by the pains or pleasures of 
men. The birds go about their merry little businesses 
unheedful of the life or death of kings. As the years 
pass, and we see each day more deeply into the stream 
of life, we say each day with more conviction as we 
read his great dramas, " It is really thus that life un- 
folds itself. This is as it is. The stream is too wide 
and deep for us to sound. We cannot tell why, or 
whence, or whither it flows ; we can only go with it, 
as we must, and be glad of the sun and stars reflected 
upon its bosom." 

It is this attitude toward life that we need to recap- 
[40 



THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST 

ture for our modern spirit. Stevenson perhaps came 
nearer to it than any one of his generation. He loved 
his scoundrel, Huish, as Shakespeare loved lago. Not 
that either of them considered these gentlemen pleas- 
ant or pretty persons, but they rejoiced in the com- 
pleteness of the specimen, in the intricate perfection 
of their badness, and were constantly going back and 
adding affectionate little touches to bring out the 
delicate modellings of their infamy. Stevenson too 
had that enormous relish of the sting of existence 
that is like a swimmer's relish of the bitter salt of 
the ocean. Kipling, I think, owes his popularity to 
such elements of this as he possesses, though his 
equipment for literature, by nature and observation, 
is so much paler and feebler than was that of that 
sickly, courageous, consumptive Scotchman. 

Most of all we need to revive again the sense of 
nonsense; the joy of understanding, of sympathiz- 
ing with, and loving, a fool ; of entering into his 
grotesque point of view from the inside, as Rhoda 
Broughton can do — of whom Herbert Spencer said 
that she was the only woman who had added any- 
thing new to English letters since George Eliot, and 
whom Kipling gratefully acknowledges as one of his 
most inspiring models. Rhoda Broughton's female 
fools entitle her to a clear claim to genius, and make 
for her very nearly an equal place beside Jane Austen. 

[43 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

We need, too, to learn again the love of creation 
for its own sake — without purpose other than the 
mere joy of doing it. We need to be again enam- 
oured of life and living ; regarding with equal zest 
the greatness of existence and the littleness of it. We 
need to be just interested, as Thackeray was, who 
did n*t much care whether a man was good or bad, 
but was interested anyhow — in French cooks and 
French viscounts ; in lodging-house slaveys and mar- 
quises ; in drunken Irish captains and priggish young 
English gentlemen ; in female adventurers and pious 
gentlewomen such as Lady Jane Sheepshanks. All 
their little braggings and conceits and hypocrisies, 
their snobberies and makeshifts and pretences, were 
as great a pleasure to him as the heroisms and 
unselfishnesses, the courage and tendernesses, the 
pride and the power, the loves and loyalties. It was 
all life — all part of the pattern. He rejoiced in 
Becky Sharp as much as in Amelia Sedley, in the 
Marquis of Steyne as in Colonel Newcome, and 
could see Becky*s womanliness as clearly as he could 
the small jealousies of Lady Castlewood, and the 
faults of Colonel Newcome as plainly as the virtues 
of that well-born blackleg, Rawdon Crawley. 

Something of this — overlaid by his strange, glan- 
cing, oblique style — is the quality of George Mer- 
edith, whose high robust spirit is as buoyant as the 

[44] 



THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST 

Psalmist's bridegroom, "who rejoiceth as a strong 
man to run a race" — Meredith, who is sane enough 
and tender enough to love his enchanting Egoist, 
Sir Willoughby Patterne, and really to sympathize 
with the follies and weaknesses of his dear Diana. 

No : life is not as dark as our contemporaries 
would have us believe. Nor are we all weltering in 
blackness waiting for slum adventures to regenerate 
us. Ginger is still hot in the mouth, and Sir John 
FalstafF is a far pleasanter and more wholesome 
figure than these introspective, self-conscious gen- 
tlemen who are setting about redeeming humanity 
by toiling in the sweat-shops, and being ridiculously, 
tediously, and inhumanly in earnest. Even the ro- 
bustiously vulgar folk of Smollett, who tumble out 
of one unsavoury adventure into another, are more 
satisfactory as literary companions along life's road 
to dusty death than the nebulously inane self-anat- 
omizers and willy-nilly saviours of our degenerate 
human nature. 

That good pleasant creature, Bernard Shaw, who 
undoubtedly has a sense of humour and an eye for 
character, has not escaped the infection. The social- 
ist and reformer is constantly at war in him with the 
artist, and he solaces himself for leaving a play an 
artistic whole by writing prefaces to it to show how 
we all might be happy if we would only read Ibsen, 

[45 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

and abolish by law our natural instincts. Even H. G. 
Wells, who possesses by nature a large sense of life, 
cannot escape this infection of mental fashion, and 
breaks away from his instinctive desire for creation 
to advocate some particular brand of social pabu- 
lum. As for the great figures of European Conti- 
nental literatures, all joy of life, all red-blooded 
courage, all gaiety, is absolutely taboo in their bag- 
gage. One can hope for no sweetness, no humour, no 
zest for living, in their masterpieces. We wander 
in their pages melancholily through underground 
lodgings, through sweat-shops and brothels ; our 
eyes darkened by gloom, our ears deafened by 
plaints, our noses offended by evil smells, our 
hearts wrung by unrelieved anguish, shame, pov- 
erty, and frustration. One eats one's dinner re- 
morsefully after reading them, feeling that even 
one's modestest meal is rightfully the property of 
all the woeful of the earth ; one puts on one's coat 
bashfully, conscious of our brother's nakedness, and 
one lies down upon one's bed apologetically, lest 
others may be couching upon stones. Like Matthew 
Arnold's " Sick King in Bokhara," we refuse meat 
and drink because of sorrow at the burden of all the 
labouring earth. 

But their report of life is not a true report. Sor- 
row and poverty, injustice and wrong, are not all of 

[46] 



THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST 

existence. Much as there is of them, there is more 
of happiness, of beauty, of goodness, and of ruth. 
There is more gold in the pattern than black ; and 
nowhere is the one divorced from the other. The 
sun has not ceased to shine, nor the stars to give 
light. Rivers run and roses bloom, and that life, in 
the most untoward circumstances, is worth living, is 
proved by the fact that men cling to it ; labour and 
sorrow that they may cling to it ; cling to it in old 
age, in misfortune, in pain and disease ; and have 
always so clung, even when faith held out to them 
visions of Elysian fields beyond its threshold. An 
old woman, confined to her chair with paralysis for 
fourteen years, entirely deaf, and a pensioner on 
another's bounty, when asked if she wished to die, 
repudiated the suggestion indignantly, and added 
angrily that young people always thought they were 
the only ones who enjoyed life. 

From the eye of these melancholy reporters of 
life are entirely concealed the secret wells of vital- 
ity, of amusement, of interest, that spring in every 
human breast, even in such as this poor old derelict; 
yet these fountains of obscure joys kept her con- 
tented to see it out ; courageous to bear what would 
seem to the more fortunate intolerable ills. 

It is a sense of all this that our modern literature 
lacks. A sense that life, just mere life, in all its 

[47 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

manifestations, in its humblest, sorrowfulest forms, 
is interesting ; humorous through its contrasts, and 
on the whole enjoyable. Like Stevenson's child, we 
need to think that 

** The world is so full of a number of things 
I am sure we should all be as happy as kings.'* 



Ill 

COMMON OR GARDEN BOOKS 

WHEN one begins to look — in each special 
manifestation of our contemporary literature 
— for the underlying causes of the manifestation, 
below certain surface-reasons, such as fashion, or the 
possession of new liberties, and the like, there seems 
everywhere to be, as the fundamental cause of these 
tendencies, a new conception of his own place in 
nature, forced upon man by the discoveries of Sci- 
ence. 

Robbed of the sense of his unique importance and 
value, of his dominating place in the scheme of the 
universe; forced to admit that the sun does not 
shine solely to give him warmth and light, that ani- 
mate life was not brought into being only to feed 
and nurture his orgulous existence, he begins, like 
the guest at the scriptural banquet, to " take with 
shame a lower place," and to look about him with 
dawning interest at his fellows at the feast. Here- 
tofore, wrapped in the thick vesture of his convic- 
tion that he was the only invited guest at nature's 
table, that all that swarming life surrounding him 

[49] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

had importance only as his food or as his servants, 
convinced that he alone was destined to immortality, 
and therefore alone a matter of interest, he had 
never turned his mind to serious study of his envi- 
ronment. But a profound readjustment has been 
taking place, jarring us out of our smug self-satis- 
faction, forcing upon us a new humility. Not alone 
have we been reluctantly obliged to admit our hum- 
ble and doubtful pedigree, but • — studying our fel- 
low creatures — we have been brought to see that 
our gifts are not so supereminent as we had hereto- 
fore supposed, nor our importance in the scheme 
of life so all-pervading as we fondly imagined. The 
ants and bees we find have perfected a social polity 
beside which our highest social achievements are 
but heterogeneous and confused. The albatross, the 
porpoise, and the wild goose make our most splen- 
did endeavours at speed in locomotion but halt and 
feeble. The wasps and the spiders, the molluscs 
and diatoms, outdo our most skilful manufactures, 
and in grace, strength, speed, skill, we have to 
acknowledge a thousand rivals and superiors among 
those whom we used contemptuously to class as the 
lower orders of life. 

Out of this new humility, this new knowledge, 
has grown up a new literature. No longer do the 
sentimental adventures of imaginary Clarences and 

[ 50 ] 



COMMON OR GARDEN BOOKS 

Matildas absorb all our efforts and all our pens. 
We have begun earnestly to record the love-affairs 
of wolves and dogs, of bees, and of carnations. 
Stevenson wrote one of the most penetrating and 
brilliant of his essays, "The Character of Dogs/' 
to show us their chivalry, their vanity, their strange 
stringent code of etiquette, their ambitions, their 
religion, their weaknesses, and their heroism. Mae- 
terlinck has sublimated still further in " The Intel- 
ligence of the Flowers," and we hang breathlessly 
upon the record of the courage, the ingenuities, the 
passionate strivings, of these silent lovers of the 
fields, of the pools, and of the gardens, — lovers 
beside whose ardour and amorous persistency the 
rope-ladders and Gretna elopements of the past are 
but clumsy and indifferent contrivances. To die for 
the beloved is, in their existence, no figure of speech ; 
in their world they are all of the tribe of Azra, 
"who when they love they perish." 

And not only has the Belgian shown us loves 
more passionate, more romantic, and more uncalcu- 
lating than those of Romeo and Juliet, of Anthony 
and Cleopatra, of Pyramus and Thisbe, but he has 
revealed to us maternal affections and self-sacrifices 
even more instinctive than ours. A thousand ingen- 
ious adaptations and mechanical devices have been 
perfected by these humble parents to ensure the 

[51 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

happiness and survival of their offspring. To yield 
up their own existence, that their children may live,' 
is the simplest of their expedients. Little water- 
mothers deliberately drown themselves that their 
seeds may be buried safely in their native slime be- 
yond the reach of devouring enemies. Others wing 
their babies to float away on silver fibres to places 
of safety and success. Some have perfected ingen- 
ious springs to toss the children beyond the heavy 
shade of the parent's foliage, thereby ensuring them 
the necessary warmth and sunshine. 

In a book recently published, containing the re- 
sults of an East Indian student's years of patient 
study of the life and nature of trees, are the most 
astonishing revelations of the complicated processes 
taking place behind those barky exteriors, which 
heretofore we have crudely considered as being 
merely the outer surface of a device to furnish ma- 
terial for our chairs and tables. So surprising are the 
results of this Hindu's patient investigations, that 
he concludes a tree to be "a sentient creature living 
in a box." A creature, he tells us, who is, in the old 
sentimental phrase, " all heart." It had long puzzled 
hydraulic engineers to understand how trees suc- 
ceeded in pumping the fluid of their sap from the 
soil to heights which no steam-pump of our inven- 
tion could reach; but the Hindu explains that the 

[52] 



COMMON OR GARDEN BOOKS 

tree is an immense, elongated heart, with a systole 
and diastole like that of the human muscle; and that 
in many other ways a tree's growth and circulation 
curiously resemble those of man. Skilled surgery 
has been applied to their wounds, a whole pharma- 
copoeia of preventive medicine for their diseases has 
been classified by the national agricultural chemists, 
and their wasting from anaemia or senescent decay 
has been checked by liberal doses of cod-liver oil, 
to which stimulus they respond much as we would 
ourselves. 

Discoveries of this character, recognition of our 
likeness to, our close physical, mental, and moral 
ties with, not only animate, but what used to be 
called inanimate, nature, have had their inevitable 
influence upon our literature. We of this generation 
have a most refreshing and exhilarating sense of 
being Columbuses of this new world, which has lain 
so near and yet so far from us for so long; but, as 
has been cynically suggested of discoveries in phi- 
losophy, " If you have an entirely new and original 
thought, go and look it up in the Greek classics — 
you'll find it admirably expressed in some one of 
them " ; so, to find expressed this sense of oneness 
with all forms of life, we have only to turn over the 
pages of an Hellenic mythology. The Greeks, of 
course, gave it a diflferent form of expression. Where 

[ 53 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

we use facts, and diagrams, and scientific terms, they 
used an image, a poetic suggestion, conveying the 
same idea in another form. Where we use thermo- 
meters so delicate that it is said a cross word or 
hasty movement will register a change of tempera- 
ture on the dial, or where we employ measurements 
so minute as to make millimeters seem as long as 
miles, the Greek cast his conception in the form of 
anthropometric suggestion. His myth of the tender 
palpitating flesh and soul of the dryad enclosed in 
the rough skin of the tree, merely conveys in sim- 
pler, more picturesque form the meaning we work 
out through laborious scientific experiments. His 
was a sort of picture-writing of thought — the same 
thought we now convey through the arbitrary for- 
mulae of science and demonstrations by diagrams. 

In its simplest and mildest form this new impulse 
of ours toward the life about us has taken the shape 
of garden-books. No really self-respecting author 
now fails to number among his works some form of 
this pervasive literature. We have Commuters' gar- 
dens and German gardens, Tuscan gardens and Pot- 
pourris from a Surrey garden, formal gardens and 
rose-gardens, water-gardens and wild gardens, hardy 
gardens and winter-gardens; and, if we are not all 
past masters at growing everything, from tulips to 
lilies, from cabbages to kings, it is no fault of the 

[ 54] 



COMMON OR GARDEN BOOKS 

busy creators of recipes for developing new Edens. 
We all passionately build pergolas, or search ardently 
for sun-dials ; we all have views on bulbs, or pre- 
possessions about manures. Not to own a trowel 
or a picturesque garden-hat is to be as demod'e as if 
one clung to last year's styles in sleeves. 

Hot on the trail of the garden-book comes the lit- 
erature of the reformed cockney — that ingenuous 
wanderer from " the sweet shady side of Pall Mall," 
who, book and opera-glass in hand, wrestles prayer- 
fully with the mysteries of " Familiar Trees and 
their Leaves," or meekly sets about learning " How 
to know the Birds from the Wild Flowers." Ready- 
witted seizers of crazes get five dollars an hour from 
earnest ladies gathering themselves into classes to 
be taken to the woods to hear the hermit thrush, 
and who are perfectly content with a robin's whistle. 
Meanwhile no governess can hope for a place who 
does notinclude " Nature-Studies" in her curriculum, 
or who is not prepared to teach the infant mind to 
distinguish readily between the crow and the crocus, 
between parrots and carrots. 

And hard on the heels of these purveyors of Twelve 
Easy Lessons on How to Use your Eyes and Intelli- 
gence are the makers of the literature of the wild ; 
and any lack of familiarity with the inmost emotions 
of our brother animals is not for want of revelations 

[ 55 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

of the vie intime of bears and wolves, sheep and deer, 
cats and dogs. The habits and laws, hopes and sor- 
rows, of our dumb brothers are slowly disentangled 
and revealed to us, and we find with each page we 
turn how slight is the barrier dividing us from lives 
heretofore apparently separated from our own by 
unbridged abysses. 

Not without protest, however, has this change 
taken place. A remnant yield but slowly to this frontal 
attack upon human egotism. There are still many 
who like to think condescendingly and half contemp- 
tuously of the dog as having his best claim to ex- 
istence in being what used to be sentimentally termed 
the Friend of Man. There are still many who pas- 
sionately oppose all suggestion of animal personality 
and intelligence by vociferously classing all such 
proofs as cannot be denied or ignored with " instinct," 
though what this mysterious instinct is, they cannot 
be induced to define. Apparently it is some mental 
process which animals apply to their needs in the 
same way in which human animals apply their intelli- 
gence ; but it is human lese majeste that this instinct, 
which works so exactly like a mind, should be recog- 
nized as mind. 

We have all progressed beyond Descartes* strange 
fancy that animals were mere automata, experiencing 
no mental processes whatever ; but it affronts these 

[ 56] 



COMMON OR GARDEN BOOKS 

crusted old Tories to be told that they have no 
exclusive claim to gifts of mind and of personality ; 
their cry of outrage taking the form of loud denials 
of assertions tending to reverse their convictions, and 
of sweeping all their opponents into the scorned cate- 
gory of nature-fakirs. It should not be a surprise 
to find amid this forlorn hope of the human egotists 
some who claim the title of naturalists. A naturalist 
in the past has been one who, armed with lethal 
weapons, went forth in search of his fellow creatures* 
lives, and who found his pleasure in the measurements 
and studies of the dead bodies of his victims. To 
know the exact number of a dead warbler's tail-feath- 
ers, to give accurately the measure of a bob-cat's skull, 
was sufficient in the past to rank one as a nature- 
lover. One might as properly call a student of hu- 
man anatomy a philanthropist. To accept the views 
of the man who seeks animals only with a gun in his 
hand, would seem about as intelligent as to pin one's 
faith to the opinion of a Japanese soldier upon the 
home life of the Russian moujik. The moujik pit- 
ting his cunning and the swiftness of his legs against 
the searching fire of the machine-gun is a very dif- 
ferent person from the Russian peasant making love, 
marrying, rearing his children in the security of his 
village mir. To the hunter all animals seem wild 
beasts, — cunning, treacherous, fierce, and stupid, — 

[ 57] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

and hunters of men would probably bring us back 
a like report of the human race. If one could imagine 
that remarkable story by H. G. Wells, "The War 
of the Worlds/* having been an actual occurrence, 
one could imagine what sort of a report the Martians 
must have taken back to Mars of the treachery, 
fierceness, and lack of reasoning faculty displayed by 
the inhabitants of London when pursued by weapons 
so deadly and so unusual as those employed in the 
interplanetary struggle. 

Apart from this limitation of the point of view, 
those who denounce students of the wild as nature- 
fakirs make no allowance for the difference between 
individuals in the animal world. Of course these 
deny that such differences exist, but the same type 
of mind would not admit possible differences in the 
characters of Frenchmen, Negroes, and Chinamen. 
Such a mind lumps the whole race into a mere 
undifferentiated mass of "dagoes," "coons," and 
" chinks " ; and the possibility of the individual dis- 
playing any variation from the preconceived type of 
chink, coon, or dago would be scornfully repudi- 
ated as the mendacious romancing of human nature- 
fakirs. A mind of this calibre asserts that wolves do 
thus and so — wolves never do thus and so. One 
might as well say Joneses do thus and so — Joneses 
never do thus and so ; when nothing is more certain 

[58] 



COMMON OR GARDEN BOOKS 

than that children born of the same parents, bred in 
the same environment, differ as widely as human 
beings can. One Jones may be a scientist, another 
a mystic. A Jones may be an eminent financier, his 
twin brother a ne'er-do-weel and a wastrel. Meet- 
ing the banker Jones, one might as properly say 
that all Joneses have the money sense ; or the next 
student of Joneses declare, studying the brother, 
that all Joneses are idle spendthrifts ; and each 
observer would probably call the other an unin- 
telligent liar. Now wolves differ as greatly as do 
Joneses, and much depends on which wolf one has 
met. 

How, after all, are we to pass these sweeping 
judgements upon our fellow animals when we 
understand so little our fellow men ? For we speak 
in the same broad way of nations of human beings. 
The French are polite, the Italians romantic, the 
English haughty and inhospitable. Even so close at 
home as between North and South, East and West, 
there are the same rough judgements. The North 
thinks the South lazy, shiftless, and ignorant ; and 
a Northerner listens with incredulity to denials, or 
even proofs, of the contrary. The South is firmly 
convinced that the special characteristics of the 
North are grinding, greedy meannesses, and cold- 
blooded hypocrisies. The East thinks the West 

[59] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

coarse, sensual, and violent; the West returns the 
compliment by charges of cowardly efFeteness. 

Here we are in a common country, under one 
government, speaking one language, with one liter- 
ature, laced together in the closest communion by 
common interests, and yet we so little understand 
and sympathize with our human neighbours. I have 
heard a New York woman, of rather unusual edu- 
cation and breeding, express naive and profound 
surprise at finding the house of a Western milHon- 
aire exquisitely and artistically appointed ; and the 
average Westerner is amazed to find that an East- 
ern man can sit a horse or fire a gun. Even travel 
cannot open eyes closed by prejudice. Indeed, it 
probably only intensifies the misinterpretation, for 
the eyes cannot see what the brain is not prepared 
to receive. One who has a fixed preconception will 
notice only such matters as fit the preconception. 

A geologist, a naturalist, and a sailor went for 
a ride by a wooded road that overlooked the sea. 
They discussed a pohtical question all the way, but 
on their return their hostess conceived the idea of 
making them each write for her a brief account of 
the expedition. The geologist had been most inter- 
ested in a curious formation of the soil shown in 
a deep cutting made to grade the road. The sailor 
had observed several unusual types of boats ; and 

[ 60 ] 



COMMON OR GARDEN BOOKS 

both of these stared rather doubtingly at the natu- 
ralist when he reported the presence of six scarlet 
tanagers within a few acres of forest. No one of the 
three had seen what the others had seen, and yet 
all were trained observers. Each had found what 
the bent of his mind had led him to look for, and 
entirely missed important facts that were outside 
the scope of his interest, — for, as I said before, it 
is impossible to see what one has not the type of 
brain to receive. And apparently there is nothing 
so tempting as to affirm that what one has not seen 
cannot possibly exist. 

It is not necessary, however, to linger to point 
out the limitations of these vociferous apostles of 
negation. We may pass onward to those who have 
given us a definite and tangible impulse toward a 
larger comprehension of the world in which we live ; 
those who have touched our blinded eyes and said, 
"Ephatha!" — be thou opened, — and led us by 
the hand back to "Nature, the dear old nurse," 
and introduced us to our myriad playfellows who 
stand ready to teach us a thousand lessons, to show 
us endless treasures. 

Perhaps the most famous of these apostles to the 
Gentiles is Ernest Seton, that Shakespeare of the 
woods, with his gift of characterization, of gathering 
up the qualities of a species into an archetype, so 

[6, ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

that we see the wolf in Lobo ; the crow, that odd, 
wily,cynical old philosopher of the air, in Silverspot; 
the deer in the Sand-hill Stag; much as we have 
grown to think of human ambition as Macbeth, of 
jealousy as Othello, of avarice as Shylock the Jew. 
And not alone has he made us privy to the world 
of the wild, but in what is perhaps his subtlest and 
most symbolic study of that animal cockney, the 
" Slum Cat," he has taught us to understand how 
curiously alike are the influences of urban environ- 
ment upon beasts and upon man. No one can rise 
from his story of Arnaux, the carrier dove, that Bay- 
ard of the sky, without knowing that "purification 
of the emotions by pity and terror," which Plato 
thought the real value of tragedy upon the stage. Of 
course, there is a certain type of stodgy mind which 
will demand inquisitorially, " But is the story of 
Arnaux true?" One might as well ask is the story 
of Desdemona true, though Mr. Seton says, " It is 
so nearly historical that several who knew the bird 
have supplied additional items of information." 

As Charles G. D. Roberts, another notable teller 
of nature tales, says : — 

" It is with the psychology of animal life that the repre- 
sentative animal stories of to-day are first of all concerned. 
. . . Looking deep into the eyes of our four-footed kin- 
dred, we have been startled therein by some things before 

[62] 



COMMON OR GARDEN BOOKS 

unrecognized, that answered to our inner intellectual, if 
not spiritual selves. . . . Our chief writers of animal sto- 
ries of the present day may be regarded as explorers of this 
unknown world, absorbed in charting its topography. . . . 
Above all, they are diligent in their search for the motive 
beneath the action. Their care is to catch the varying, 
elusive personalities which dwell back of the luminous 
brain-windows of the dog, the horse, the deer, or wrap 
themselves in reserve behind the inscrutable eyes of all the 
cats, or sit aloof in the gaze of the hawk and the eagle. 
The animal story at its highest point of development is 
a psychological romance constructed on a framework of 
natural science." 

This framework of natural science, this charting 
of topography, is in the hands of a thousand busy 
workers and observers, who, perhaps not sufficiently 
imaginative to write psychological romances, yet with 
note-book and camera collect the material from which 
the romances are constructed, and open up endless 
vistas into the life about us. They show us the flam- 
ing, meteoric love-making of the bee and of the 
hummingbird. (One wonders, by the way, if the old 
term of" honey-moon " was not in acknowledgement 
of some secret aphrodisaic quality in the essence of 
the flowers, since both these creatures whose food 
it is are such passionate, unreflecting Romeosin their 
amours); or they open to our view the life history of 

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AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

the salmon — one of the strangest tales in nature; 
or they are studying the thrifty housekeeping of the 
wayside herbs, or taking notes on the educational 
system of the hare and the rabbit. Nothing is too 
large to be interesting, nothing so small as to be un- 
important. Though you take the winds of the morn- 
ing and fly to the uttermost parts of the earth, you 
will not escape the student of nature. You will meet 
him with specimen-box and butterfly-net in the for- 
ests of Papua, and find him struggling with refrac- 
tory photograph-films in Terra del Fuego. No mod- 
esty on the part of an individual will avail in evading 
his notice. Talk about the intrusions of the Ameri- 
can newspapers! They are shrinking delicacy itself 
when compared to the egregious intrusiveness of 
the nature-student. Consider the case of Melicerta, 
for example. No one can say she courts notoriety, 
and yet P. H. Gosse has dragged all her household 
secrets before the public in his book, "The Romance 
of Natural History." 

Melicerta lives, and always has lived, in the 
most retiring manner in stagnant ditches, and so 
little ostentatious is she that one drop of water 
gives her ample room for all her activities, and you 
never see her unless you take the base advantage 
of using a powerful microscope. Gosse, the peeper, 
says : — 

[64] 



COMMON OR GARDEN BOOKS 

" The smallest point made with the finest steel pen would 
be too large to represent its dimensions, yet she lives in a 
snug little house of her own construction, which she has 
built up stone by stone, cementing each with perfect sym- 
metry as it proceeded with all the skill of an accomplished 
mason. She collects the material for the mortar, and min- 
gles it. She collects the material for the bricks and moulds 
them, and this with a precision only equalled by the skill 
with which she lays them when they are made. As might 
be supposed, with such duties to perform, Melicerta is fur- 
nished with an apparatus quite unique, a set of machinery 
to which, if we searched through the whole range of beasts, 
birds, reptiles, and fishes, and examined the 500,000 species 
of insects to boot, we should find no parallel." 

To shorten the elaborate description of this re- 
markable apparatus, it is enough to say that Meli- 
certa turns her head into what looks like a pellucid 
pansy, and makes the waving edges of the pansy 
gather the silica in the water into a little pouch on 
her chin, and in that pouch moulds her brick, and 
she can make and lay a brick every three minutes. 
And yet we praise the energy and skill of the Amer- 
ican artisan ! Can any one of them mould a brick 
on his chin every three minutes ? 

Mr. Burroughs denies that animals have what can 
be called mind in our sense of the term, but Gosse 
says : — 

[65 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

" It is impossible to witness the constructive operations 
of Melicerta without being convinced that she possesses 
mental faculties. . . . How can we fail to see that in the 
operations of this invisible animalcule there are workings of 
an immaterial principle ? There must be a power to judge 
of the height to which its structure must be carried, a will 
to commence and to go on, a will to leave off, a conscious- 
ness of when the little brick is in a proper condition for 
laying, an accurate estimate of the spot where it needs to 
be deposited, a memory of where the last one was laid. 
Surely these are mental powers. Yet this mind animates 
an atom so small that under the most favourable circum- 
stances it is only barely visible to the eye unassisted by a 
microscope." 

It is, after all, largely to the microscope that we 
owe the gradual breaking down of our fat-witted hu- 
man egotism. It seems odd that the proper grinding 
and juxtaposition of pieces of glass should not only- 
produce a highly salutary moral effect, but make 
whole new worlds swim into our ken. One of the 
new nature-books calls to our attention the startling 
thought that there exists a world of animated beings 
densely peopling the elements around us, of which 
our senses are altogether uncognizant. Generation 
after generation of infusoria and protozoa have been 
living and dying under the very eyes and in the 
very hands of man, and until he invented a micro- 

[66] 



COMMON OR GARDEN BOOKS 

scope, he no more suspected their existence than if 
"the scene of their sorrow" had been in the rings 
of Saturn. 

Read the description one writer has given of a 
drop of water that clung to the root of a lily pulled 
up from a pool. Here is a mere paragraph out of 
the six pages : — 

" The amount of life is at first bewildering as one studies 
it under the microscope. Motion is in every part of the 
field — hundreds and thousands of pellucid bodies are dart- 
ing about. . . . Aggregations of little transparent pears 
clinging together by their stalks go revolving merrily. Here 
comes rolling by, with majestic slowness, a globe of glass 
with sixteen emeralds embedded in its substance, each em- 
erald carrying a tiny ruby at one end. Elegant forms re- 
sembling fishes or battledores, or poplar leaves, all of a rich 
opaque green hue with a large orange spot, wriggle by in 
corkscrew fashion. Disks of clear jelly are seen. A great 
oblong purplish mass comes rolling along, a very Triton 
among the minnows. He suddenly arrests his headlong 
course, takes hold of a fragment of leaf, and unfolds into 
a trumpet, in shape like a calla lily. A tuft of needle-like 
leaves is full of life. The branches bear transparent wine- 
glasses. Several tiny creatures are climbing among these 
branches, shaped like guinea pigs, but with a large ruby- 
coloured eye shining in the middle of their foreheads." 

And he concludes : — 

[67] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

" Truly this world which we could hold between finger 
and thumb, — this world in a globule of water, — this 
world of rollicking, joyous, boisterous fellows, that a pin's 
point would take up, is even more wonderful than the 
shoals of whales that wallow in Baffin's Bay, or the herds 
of elephants that shake the earth in the forests of Cey- 
lon." 

Perhaps the most charming of all the writers of 
the literature of out-of-doors is that modest Anglo- 
Indian author of " The Tribes On My Frontier," 
who contents himself by signing his delightful studies 
of the Hindu world simply with the initials E. H. A. 
He is not only a naturalist but a humourist, and in 
the clear genial light of his gay spirit are disclosed a 
thousand pathetic and amusing aspects of the birds, 
the insects, and the animals of the tropical world 
about him. If Ernest Seton is the Shakespeare of 
the woods, E. H. A. is the Moliere of the jungle. 
He sees with the kindliest, laughing eye all the foibles 
and absurdities of his neighbours out-of-doors ; and 
his delicious stories of the ants, the rats, the crows, 
the spiders, and centipedes give one a new sense of 
the nearness of these creatures, so like ourselves in 
their small shifts, their jealousies, their stupidities 
and greed, their tricks and jests, and their narrow 
ambitions. 

Summing up his observations he says : — 
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COMMON OR GARDEN BOOKS 

" I will not moralize on all these things, for this reason, 
that a moral is more palatable and more wholesome when 
you extract it for yourself. Served up cold by another, it 
is apt to bring on nausea. Materials are plentiful for those 
who will use them. Like a thousand fragments of a shat- 
tered mirror, the bright flies and other ephemeral fowls of 
the air, the caterpillars, worms, and creeping things on the 
earth, and the strange shapes that people every piece of 
water, are reflecting this same life of ours, with all its lights 
and shades. Its joys and sorrows light upon them, its hopes 
and cares distract their hearts. 

" One evening I dined with a major, who had a quiver- 
full of anxieties at home, and he showed me a long row of 
their photographs in his pocket-album ; another evening 
I met a small beetle travailously rolling along a round ball 
of nutritious earthy matter, in which she proposed to bring 
up her family. The simplest way of managing the matter 
which suggested itself to her original mind was to stand 
on her head and kick the ball along with her hind feet; 
and at this exercise I found her panting and perspiring. At 
length she reached a pit which she had dug beforehand, and 
there she proceeded to bury the ball and cover it with earth, 
— the major meanwhile turning over in his thoughts the 
relative advantages of the Army and the Civil Service as 
a sphere for his first-born, and wondering whether possi- 
bly the Church would suit his second boy. Of course, the 
major does not care a straw what becomes of the dirty 
little beetle and its vile grub; on the other hand, it is a 
matter of the profoundest indifference to the beetle whether 

[69] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

the major's son runs away with an actress or becomes 
Archbishop of Canterbury. She has her own springs of glad- 
ness and sadness, and with these a stranger intermeddleth 
not." 

It is to some such conclusion as this that the 
whole creation of the modern literature of out-of- 
doors moves : toward a comprehension of the unity 
of life; toward a sympathy and understanding of 
the myriad lives around us, which like our own are 
tossed about, on tempests of misdirected affections 
and ambitions, on illusive hopes and fears ; a realiza- 
tion that they like ourselves hope and rejoice, sigh 
and suffer, toil in anxiety and rest with satisfaction. 
However the squad of egotists contemptuously rage 
and imagine a vain thing of our enormous superi- 
ority, the patient work and study of the real students 
of nature opens wider day by day the closed doors 
between us and our fellow beings, and teaches us 
the humility which makes us acknowledge the snob- 
bishness of our past attitude to those whom we were 
wont to consider our poor relations. 

This enlarging of our moral and mental horizons 
is almost comparable to the immense expansion in 
the intellectual development of Europe which fol- 
lowed upon the discovery of America. Nothing gave 
mediaeval superstition and bigotry so shrewd a blow 
as the opening up of this immense new continent 

[70] 



COMMON OR GARDEN BOOKS 

for adventure and exploration ; and Darwin's inves- 
tigation into our human pedigree, and his announce- 
ment of our really humble origin, opened up a like 
continent of mental adventure to ourselves. Into 
this new world the brave and the vigorous have 
thrown themselves with a passion like that of the 
old colonists and conquistador es. The accounts they 
bring back of the natives of these fresh fields and 
pastures new differ as widely as the early accounts 
of the natives of America. Some are passionate de- 
fenders and philanthropists, like the tender-hearted 
Bishop of the Isles, Las Casas; others, romantic 
sentimentalists, like Chateaubriand, or careful gath- 
erers of general fact, like the compilers of the famous 
" Relations " of the Jesuit Fathers ; but each and all 
add something to the growing store of our know- 
ledge of the "natives" of the world about us, — 
are slowly making us aware of their habits, laws, 
customs, costumes, ceremonies, and structures, are 
teaching us their languages, their religions, and their 
resemblances to ourselves. 

What the result of all this new knowledge, this 
new adventure, will eventually be upon the mind 
and the soul of man, it is yet too early to discern; 
but the results will probably be as far-reaching, as 
unexpected, as has been the reaction of the Western 
continent upon the Eastern. Those who go forth 

[71 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

with the early settlers will feel the influence first, 
will experience the greatest changes. Wordsworth, 
with a poet's prophetic insight into impulses of the 
future, cries to his fellows, — 

"Come forth into the light of things. 
Let Nature be your teacher. 



" One impulse from a vernal wood 
May teach you more of man. 
Of moral evil and of good. 
Than all the sages can. 

*' Enough of Science and of Art ; 
Close up those barren leaves ; 
Come forth, and bring with you a heart 
That watches and receives." 

There is the talisman we must take if we would 
find gold in this new world. We must cease to be 
human snobs and egoists, and bring with us "a 
heart that watches and receives." 



IV 

THE CHILD IN LITERATURE 

CONSIDERING, from various angles, the 
effect upon modern literature of the new hu- 
man humility which has resulted from the discov- 
eries of science, we have seen how it has altered the 
mutual attitude of the sexes, what a revolution it 
has wrought in the sense of social responsibility, 
how it has bridged the gulf which we had dug be- 
tween ourselves and nature ; and it is interesting to 
consider what a change it has brought about in our 
attitude to our children. 

I consider myself peculiarly well fitted to speak 
on this topic, having — though apparently still in 
the prime of a hale middle age — really lived in 
three centuries. For in the remote parts of the 
South, in the *6o*s, the attitude of the family and 
of society still strikingly resembled that of England 
in the eighteenth century under the Georges, and 
having had intimate acquaintance with the latter 
third of the nineteenth century, I am now permit- 
ted to see the dawn of the twentieth epoch of the 
Christian era. So that, when Max Beerbohm, in the 

[73] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

chapter named " A Cloud of Pinafores," speaks of 
the " stern Georgian and early Victorian days when 
nurseries were governed in a spirit of blind despot- 
ism/' I know from personal experience what he 
means to signify. He says : " Children were not 
then recognized as human creatures. They were a 
race apart : savages to be driven from the gates ; 
beasts to be kept in cages ; devils to whose voices one 
must not listen. Indeed, the very nature of children 
was held to be sinful. Lies and sloth, untidiness 
and irreverence, and a tendency to steal black-cur- 
rant jam, were taken to be its chief constituents. And 
so all nurseries were the darkened scene of tempo- 
ral oppression, fitfully lighted with the gaunt reflec- 
tions of hell fire. . . . Children were not neglected 
in those days. Their parents* sedulous endeavour was 
to force them up to a standard of mature conduct. 
They were taught that only their elders were good, 
and they were punished always in so far as they 
behaved childishly.'* 

This picture is not drawn in exaggerated lines. 
Max Beerbohm has a light-minded fashion of say- 
ing the most incisive things. It was perfectly true 
that we of the dark infantile ages were brought up 
on the theory that only our elders were virtuous, 
and one never thought of criticizing them. What- 
ever they did, was, it was explained, " for our good/* 

[74] 



THE CHILD IN LITERATURE 

and even the most unsparing floggings, we were 
assured, were administered in a spirit of loving- 
kindness, and hurt our parents far more than they 
did us. Now no mind could fail, under such an 
assurance, to be dazzled by the lofty self-sacrifice 
of those so ready and so frequent to endure this 
excess of torture in the behalf of another's moral 
elevation. Their whole attitude toward us rested, 
we were told, impregnably upon a scriptural basis. 
Did we not have the unimpeachable testimony of 
that learned old rake. King Solomon, as to spar- 
ing the rod and spoiling the child ? and was there 
not a grim hint in the minor Prophets about the 
Eagles of the Valley picking out the eyes of the 
irreverent infant? Also, how about that story of 
Elisha and the bears ? — And now, perhaps, you 
will be good ! 

I hope it will inspire a properly reverent attitude 
for the hoariness of my experiences when it is under- 
stood that " Sanford and Merton " was the earliest 
of my juvenile books, and that they and their little 
darkey, whom they called "a blackamoor," stood 
for me at the gateway of English literature. Also I 
possessed an " Orbis Pictus," which has the honour 
of being almost the first book ever written for chil- 
dren. My moral nature was formed upon the high, 
austere lines laid down by Hannah More and Ma- 

[75] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

ria Edgeworth. " Line upon Line" and " Precept 
upon Precept " were two of the specimens of light 
literature which beguiled one's leisure hours in those 
days. Dr. Watts scattered his flowers of didactic 
hymnology along one's severely straight and nar- 
row path. He told us how — 

'* Birds in their little nests agree. 
And 'tis a sorry sight 
When children of one family- 
Fall out, and chide and fight; " — 

and we accepted the moral instruction without ques- 
tion, though our observation had taught us that 
there was as much scrooging and pushing, and 
struggle for the biggest piece, in the nest as in the 
nursery. 

Bunyan's " Pilgrim's Progress " and " Holy 
War" were administered as correctives to a tend- 
ency to light-mindedness ; and a concession to a 
lamentable modern disposition to indulge the young 
was a permission to read Grace Aguilar's " Vale of 
Cedars" and "A Mother's Recompense," though 
the child of to-day would look upon them as little 
better than tracts. 

Of course, one was expected to " search the 
Scriptures " as diligently as did the young Timothy. 
A chapter from each Testament both morning and 
evening was stipulated. It is vivid yet how one 

[76] 



THE CHILD IN LITERATURE 

shivered on winter nights over long genealogical 
lists of how somebody begat somebody else, hur- 
rying through them by a flickering candle in an 
unwarmed bedroom, one's eyelids drooping irresisti- 
bly, and even the icy linen sheets looking inviting 
by contrast. On Sundays secular reading of any 
nature whatsoever was forbidden. The memoriz- 
ing of hymns, psalms, and selected Biblical chapters 
followed the recitation of the Collect for the day, 
and the Church Catechism, in which any failure in 
letter perfection entailed condign punishment. As 
a reward for fluency one was read aloud to from 
" Stepping Heavenward," or from a really frightful 
little allegory called " The Shadow of the Cross," 
whose poignant pictures of the fate inevitable for 
naughtiness produced a solution into floods of un- 
controllable anguish. 

The whole tendency of literature for the young 
in that day confirms Max Beerbohm's assertions. 
Constant repetition engraved deep upon one's con- 
sciousness the belief that children were by nature 
reprehensible, with a tendency to be incorrigible, 
and that their elders were by contrast equally impec- 
cable. One was called upon to distrust all one's 
native instincts, and to accept without criticism all 
the actions of the grown-ups, however these actions 
might superficially appear not to square with their 

177^ 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

precepts. It seems well nigh incredible that one 
ordinary lifetime, of no inordinate length, has suf- 
ficed for so complete a revolution in our moral 
attitude. When one considers the change brought 
about in some two-score years one murmurs, — 
" Can such things be ? 
And overcome us like a summer cloud '* — 

of pinafores. 

The first gleam along my particular horizon came 
in the shape of the Leila books ; three fat red volumes 
of the adventures of a little English girl, who, of 
course, possessed the usual supply of wholly admir- 
able adult relations, but who had human elements 
herself, though in what would be considered to-day 
a highly diluted form. The famous Elsie Dinsmore, 
as I remember her, was the first infant of literature 
to deal roundly with the parent. But the 'emeute of 
that unwholesome, detestable little prig rested upon 
a strictly religious basis. When Mr. Horace Dins- 
more (who in the illustrations was depicted with limbs 
clothed in fashionable peg-top trousers, and a worldly 
countenance adorned with flowing "Piccadilly weep- 
ers") bade Elsie give them a little music on the holy 
Sabbath day, she fainted from the piano-stool rather 
than obey so monstrous a command. Which virtu- 
ous constancy had the effect of touching her father to a 
prompt conversion, — trousers, Piccadilly weepers, 

[78] 



THE CHILD IN LITERATURE 

and all, — and immediately imbued him with extreme 
High-Church principles. But the wedge had at last 
been inserted, even though pointed with an edge of 
piety. The reign of the immaculate adult was at an 
end. 

The first realist among the writers for children 
was Sophie May — author of the " Dotty Dimple " 
series. I earned the money to buy the Dotty books 
by refraining from the use of butter for three months 
— not that the butter habit was reprehensible, or 
that the supply was short, but merely to teach one 
self-discipline. And well those volumes repaid self- 
denial. Here at last were children such as one knew 
one's self to be — a normal mingling of good and 
evil, of kind-heartedness and snobbery, of truth and 
falsehood, of fantasy and practical wisdom. The 
books might have been written by a child herself, so 
veracious, so simple, and so mirror-like in accuracy 
were those little volumes. 

Alas ! tempted by the publisher, the author was 
unwise enough to use their popularity to exploit 
other series ; series no more like to the Dotty books 
than I to Hercules. Elsie, too, was followed by an 
endless series of other Elsies. I am told that the child 
of the present day is now reading the adventures of 
the original Elsie's great-grandchildren, and that the 
publisher of Martha Finley's works declares that if 

[79] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

he had no other volumes in his catalogues than these, 
he could still enjoy a sufficient income. 

To-day the child reigns supreme in literature. 
Not only have they periodicals devoted wholly to 
their interests, but no periodical for adults dares 
appear without at least one story of infantile life. 
The greatest authors and artists vie for the privilege 
of describing and depicting the humours and sorrows 
of the child. The ancient proverb now reads, "Grown- 
ups should be seen but not heard," and in this fierce 
light that beats upon the infant all the traditional 
simplicity and charm of youth has withered. Compare 
our old friend Rollo with Buster Brown or Peck's 
Bad Boy, and one will realize how far we have trav- 
elled in half a century. The voice of the child is so 
clamant as to drown all other sounds. We have 
" The Child in the House," the " Child's Garden of 
Verses," " The Rights of the Child," " The Psy- 
chology of the Child," until some of us begin secretly 
to develop a sneaking fondness for Herod, and to 
consider that there might be mitigating circumstances 
in, not a new slaughter of the Innocents, — for there 
are none, — but perhaps some form of bloodless mas- 
sacre of the Sophisticated. It is perhaps not so much 
selfishness as a stern desire to survive at all which 
is showing itself in the tendency to race-suicide. The 
oppressed adult is being driven into a sinister rebel- 

[80] 



THE CHILD IN LITERATURE 

jion by the intolerable oppression of his offspring. 
The pendulum has swung to the extreme opposite 
point of the arc, and the twentieth century's senti- 
mentalism has taken the form of the complete abdi- 
cation of the erstwhile despotic grown folks. Every 
era has its particular phase of sentimentality, and 
this infantile sentimentality is ours. You have but 
to mention the " Che-ild," — with the vox humana 
lilt turned on, — and we at once assume just that 
moist brightness of the eye, that wistful, tender 
"mother-smile," which is correct of the occasion. 
The skilful makers of literature have been quick to 
seize upon this sentimentality, and the opportunity 
has been grasped not only by writers of the female 
persuasion, but even by those who, like the Indian 
braves of Eugene Field's poem, — 

never have been mothers 
And can never hope to be, 

owing to the pathetic limitations of their sex, and 
have exploited the enormous popularity of the child, 
and turned it to gold. One author who had sought 
vainly for a hearing until reaching middle age, in 
a moment of inspiration concocted a drippingly 
sentimental book about a baby, and at once found 
fame and money, and the sternly barred pages of 
the magazines opened hospitably wide to his hith- 
erto rejected addresses. 

[ 8' ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

Some admirable books we have had, too — amid 
much sentimental saccharinity. " Emmy-Lou " was 
a creation of real worth. So was Myra Kelly*s 
" Little Citizens.'* But the list, to which there might 
be a few more additions, is not a long one ; for 
despite our new attitude of respect and humility 
toward the child, in the aspect we still turn toward 
him we are guilty of reasoning from a false premise. 
We still make the mistake of regarding children 
as "something afar from the scene of our sorrow." 
We treat them, speak of them, write of them, as 
fundamentally unlike ourselves. They are no longer 
looked upon as savages with a fixed predisposition 
toward the theft of black-currant jam, but we have 
not yet realized the full significance of the saying 
that the child is the father of the man. We shall not 
be wholly at one with him until we grasp the fact 
that the child's mind, the child's nature, is a coun- 
terpart of our own, the sole difference between us 
consisting not in his immaturity, but in his lack of 
experience ; and in the fact that he is moving about 
in a world unrealized. He acts and reasons much 
as we might do ourselves if suddenly translated to 
the planet Mars, where the language, the landscape, 
even the exigencies of gravitation, would present 
wholly new problems with which our experience 
did not fit us to deal. The mistakes made by the 

[82] 



THE CHILD IN LITERATURE 

early explorers of the American continent aston- 
ishingly resembled the absurdities of a baby tod- 
dling about the garden for the first time. We find 
the child's credulity for wonder-tales amusing, but 
our own appetite for miraculous happenings is still 
unsatiated. We are condescendingly protective in 
soothing his fear of the mysteries of the dark, or 
of the terrifying reverberations of the thunder, but 
only very recent knowledge has enabled us to meet 
their menace with a quiet pulse. 

Indeed, it is but just now that we adults have 
learned our way about this great dwelling we in- 
habit, only recently we dare set forth upon its seas, 
explore its distant lands, or meet its dangers with 
an unterrified mind. There is not one limitation 
of the child that we have not ourselves laboriously 
overcome in the long, slow, toilsome path of civili- 
zation. 

In the moral world his attitude is painfully like 
our own. He meets violence with violence, if he is 
courageous and sturdy ; if timid and self-distrustful, 
he resorts to evasion and deceit; and all history is 
a record of our choice between these two courses, 
according as we are strong or weak. The ethics of 
the nursery are an epitome of the history of morals 
displayed in a narrow field. 

The child's mind, too, is perfectly logical, and ap- 
83 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

parently mature in its faculties. As far as his expe- 
rience goes, he generally acts with wisdom and dis- 
cretion. He does not have to be burned more than 
once to dread the fire. That he does not invariably 
tread the path of wisdom, that he does not, even 
after several experiences, abjure all harmful things, 
only demonstrates more vividly his likeness to our- 
selves. He may see his elders after three-score years 
still indulging appetites proved a thousand times to 
be injurious. His mental capacity is as good, if not 
in many respects better, than that of the children 
of a larger growth. A child masters two, or even 
three languages, with an ease which few older per- 
sons can hope to imitate. In games of physical skill 
they are easily our masters in facility. The tradition 
in Scotland runs to the effect that the game of 
golf is never perfectly mastered if one waits to begin 
it beyond one's seventh year. 

In the arts, children possess a ready-made capa- 
city. Mozart is not the only musician who had 
mastered the piano almost as soon as he could 
reach the keyboard. Very nearly all the great mak- 
ers of music have shown what is called precocity, 
— as have the painters in using brush and pencil, 
and the sculptors in making things of beauty, while 
the common child is still fashioning the unostenta- 
tious mud-pie. 

84 



THE CHILD IN LITERATURE 

Of course, children do not produce masterpieces: 
not so much because they lack skill as because mas- 
ter-works are always the embodiment in some form 
of the profoundest meanings of life, and for that 
meaning they must perforce wait upon experience 
for knowledge. 

Until, then, we learn to regard the child as our 
fellow man, with like passions, with like capacity 
with ourselves, — save only for this diiference in 
knowledge of the world, visible and invisible, — we 
shall continue to write of and for him falsely. It 
must be admitted that we write of and for adults 
falsely, too, but that comes from mere lack of 
capacity, — not because of a preconception. Thou- 
sands who rush into print are hopelessly life-blind, 
— or color-blind to life, to express it more clearly, 
— and naturally they are not aware that they are 
confusing red with green. There will always be a 
large audience of those who suffer from the same 
defect in vision, of those who are only puzzled by 
the endeavour to make them see the difference 
between the rose and the foliage. It is quite useless 
to point out to Laura Jean Libby's clientele the iris 
play of Shakespeare's thought. One may ignore these 
earnest incompetents, and deal only with those who 
are fitted to see truly, but who labour within the bonds 
of misconception. Let us demand of these that they 

[ 85 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

clear their minds of the cant of the new sentimen- 
talism, and give us the real child. He is strange and 
fascinating enough, Heaven knows, — this potential 
man laboriously engaged in learning the answer to 
the riddle of life, — to give us endless possibilities 
for the profoundest and subtlest literary studies. 
Suppose we might hope for a new Thackeray to 
write us a " Book of Immature Snobs." How deli- 
cious it would be to have a master lay bare all those 
youthful ambitions and rivalries and meannesses 
that rage in the nursery and the school-room. In- 
stead of the Loves of the Angels, how much more 
charming might be the loves of the children. Those 
brooding tendernesses expended upon cock-eyed, 
grubby-nosed dolls, or upon stodgy, unresponsive 
rabbits. Those knightly passions for curly-haired, 
pink-cheeked teachers, or the shy, wild emotions 
aroused by the soap-fat man. 

If we could but adequately picture the fresh, 
ardent passions and romances of the little people, 
I think we would find our adult emotions in com- 
parison but pale and faded sentiments. How little 
we guess all the play of hidden feeling that leaves no 
mark upon those smooth and dimpled masks; those 
masks whose chins we chuck with condescending 
speeches about careless, happy childhood ! A small 
person of the age of seven lost a ring that had been 

[86] 



THE CHILD IN LITERATURE 

given her upon an anniversary, and she accepted 
without protest or explanation a severe punish- 
ment for her carelessness. Long years afterward she 
explained that, having heard by chance the quota- 
tion, — 

*' What, they lived once thus at Venice, where the merchants were 

the kings. 
Where St. Mark's is, where the Doges used to wed the sea with 

rings," — 

she had brooded over the idea with a passion which 
led her at last to seal nuptials with the great hot 
muddy river that coiled and rolled, with blind indif- 
ference to the tiny circlet laid in its brown bosom by 
the ardent baby, — she all unaware of the strange- 
ness of the atavism of this survival of pantheistic 
ceremonies, that had come down to her, through 
untold years, by more devious channels than she 
could dream. 

Thousands of equally curious stories might be 
told of children if we could win their secretive con- 
fidences : stories of emotions that hide themselves 
deeply from our condescending pleasantries, our 
blind laughter, our ignorant scorn. 

So much for the literature of children. The lit- 
erature/or children is a matter of much more seri- 
ousness. Placed as they are in a world where all 
is strange and new, where they have everything to 

[ 87] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

learn, and must, in our literate day, get a large part 
of their information from books, one would suppose 
that parents, and pastors, and masters, would devote 
the most passionate care to ensuring that children 
should get proper and accurate impressions at all 
costs. And yet such false, meretricious forth-puttings 
as the Elsie books sell widely enough to support a 
publishing-house. Take the great mass of literature 
written and bought for children by unthinking elders, 
and can any one, after examining it, truly affirm that 
they aid this immature man to understand the world 
in which he must live? 

There are some honourable exceptions, of course. 
The "Jungle Book," with its insistence upon the 
law of the pack, is a wholesome corrector of Buster- 
Brown influences; and the sweet, wise pagan play 
of the Uncle Remus stories should counteract the 
Elsie maudlininities; but in bulk the child's litera- 
ture of to-day is inept beyond expression. 

We have become so sentimental in our reaction 
from the old sternness, that we no longer allow any- 
thing sorrowful or tragic to be mentioned in the 
books for children. It is an actual fact that a kinder- 
garten teacher, when asked where beefsteaks came 
from, hesitated, and stammered forth at last that the 
nice, kind, good co^ gave them to us ! The modern 
affectation is that the dear little child is to hear no- 

[88] 



THE CHILD IN LITERATURE 

thing but smooth things about this best of all pos- 
sible worlds, and that childhood's tear must never, 
never flow. They must know nothing of pity or 
terror, and there is apparently no fear that these 
sentiments may atrophy from disuse, though one 
finds most of the young ones brought up under this 
regime with sensibilities as smooth and callous as 
pebbles. There is even one famous and successful 
periodical for young people that bars all fairy tales, 
and serves up a hash of anecdotes, and romances 
of rural base-ball clubs, as the mental nutriment of 
its readers, apparently to the complete satisfac- 
tion of the parents, as the circulation of this period- 
ical is enormous. A mind forming its impression 
of life from these stodgy tidbits is inevitably de- 
veloped into cold, unimaginative commonplace- 
ness — dull, vulgar, and dreary to the point of 
horror. 

I, it must be admitted, have reached that time of 
life when one begins to praise the old days and ways, 
— begins laudare tempora acta; and yet, little willing 
as one would be to see the ancient methods revived 
in all their sternness, one may be far enough away 
from them now to see that there was a certain — 
perhaps unintentional — wisdom in those methods. 
Truly, one did not emerge from childhood then in 
smug self-satisfaction and absorption with one's self. 

[89 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

One was prepared to underline Longfellow's errati- 
cally original proposition that 

** Life is real ! Life is earnest ! *' 

and one more than half suspected that one was the 
chief of sinners. If there were clouds of glory trail- 
ing, one was profoundly careful not to let any of 
one's elders catch one at it, but at least one knew 
the meaning of pity, and of romance. There was 
bred into one's bones the great poetry of the 
Hebrews and their marvellous pictures of 

**The old human heart with its joys and its pains." 

You cut your teeth in those days on the great clas- 
sics of literature. The books written for children were 
so arid and didactic that one gladly turned to Shake- 
speare, to Cervantes, or to that long, long row of 
black-bound volumes which non-committally called 
themselves "The British Poets," but which, like 
Portia's leaden casket, contained treasure ; contained 
the riches of the old ballads ; of " The Eve of St. 
Agnes " ; of " The Ancient Mariner " ; of " Alex- 
ander's Feast"; of "The Rape of the Lock"; of 
"Marmion." Instead of memorizing jingles out 
of the back pages of" St. Nicholas," one was forced 
to commit to memory the Psalms, Gray's "Elegy in 
a Country Churchyard," and 

"The mountains look on Marathon" ; 
[ 9°] 



THE CHILD IN LITERATURE 

the beauties of which meant little to one then, but 
which planted, like seed, produced fresh and more 
flowers every year. 

You were not fed upon modified milk in those 
days. You were bid to set your teeth into the strong 
meat that had been prepared for men ; and if you 
did not immediately and fully digest it, yet it fur- 
nished you with the red blood of real life. You read 
the " Morte d' Arthur," the story of the Paladins, in 
the sonorous original cadences, not in some version 
watered down for the infantile mind to the point of 
blank insipidity. Moreover, one had time to read, 
to ponder, and to dream. The days were not cut 
out for one on a fixed pattern, as is too much the 
habit of our own. A mother recently explained 
that she made it a point to see her children for 
half an hour each day — not that she lacked the 
time to give to them, but that they had no spare 
hours for her. Every waking moment, except that 
brief thirty minutes, was carefully apportioned. So 
many hours to lessons in books, and all the rest 
to drill, dancing-classes, fencing, swimming, riding, 
music, drawing, dressmaking, carpentry, languages, 
and nature-studies. A cloud of professors of every- 
thing under the sun surrounded them, as if they 
were young sovereigns preparing to rule king- 
doms. They hurried through youth with their little 

[91 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

tongues hanging out with mental and physical ex- 
haustion; never a moment for fantasy, never an 
instant to take account of the riches heaped upon 
them ; not an hour to turn over, to study, and to 
play with the myriads of new ideas poured into 
their heads every day. Naturally, under such a 
regime there could be no room for growth of indi- 
viduality or of poetry in their harried childhood. It 
is for these over-fertilized, over-tasked young minds 
that the new system of short-hand reading has been 
invented. Pedagogues meet in national conven- 
tion and solemnly calculate how many tenths of a 
second may be saved by teaching the two sounds 
" Kah-te " instead of the ancient long-winded c-a-t, 
cat. 

What room is there in the days of such as these 
for four chapters daily of the prolix Hebrew scrip- 
tures ? International Sunday-School leaflets take 
their place. How should such a one find time to 
saturate himself in the classics of literature! "The 
Boy's Charlemagne," "The Child's Shakespeare," 
the World, the Flesh, and the Devil boiled down 
in a vacuum into Leibig's or Armour's Extract of 
Literature is his pabulum — administered in steril- 
ized capsules. Indeed, he would probably hardly 
understand the originals if they were given him. 
Even so modern a poem as Stevenson's "North- 

[9^] 



THE CHILD IN LITERATURE 

west Passage" made a child of six stare uncompre- 
hendingly: — 

** Must we to bed, indeed ? Well then. 
Let us arise and go like men. 
And face with an undaunted tread 
The long black passage up to bed. 

** Now my little heart goes a-beating like a drum. 
With the breath of the Bogie in my hair; 
And all round the candle the crooked shadows come 
And go marching along up the stair. 

"Last to the chamber where I lie 
My fearful footsteps patter nigh. 
And come from out the cold and gloom 
Into my warm and cheerful room.*' 

In this modern child's electric-lighted, steam- 
heated existence there was no comprehension of 
dark, icy, lonely hall-ways, of ghostly, flickering 
candle-shadows, or of the deliciousness by contrast 
of the rush into firelit, companioned nursery. The 
poem had no meaning for her. Civilization had 
eliminated fear and discomfort from her cognizance. 

On the other side of this question of the over- 
trained, hurried infant has arisen a small band of 
revolutionists, who insist upon trying the experiment 
of leaving the child free to develop his instincts, 
wholly untrammelled by any interference from his 
[ 93 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

elders whatsoever. One of these has solemnly given 
to the world a record that his son's natural instincts 
took the eccentric form of buttering the door-knobs ! 
Carrying the fatuous sentimentalism of the follow- 
ers of Froebel to the reduction of absurdity, one of 
these faddists has even gone so far as to be forced 
by his horrified neighbours to erect a wall about his 
grounds, since his principles would not permit him 
to oblige his offspring to wear their garments when 
they felt inclined to play at the game of Eden. Out 
of all these varying experiments the humorous writ- 
ers for the magazines have given us some delightful 
records of the earnest, experimental parent, and the 
bewildered child. 

One of the results of this modern tendency to 
keep from the child all knowledge of real life is an 
exaggerated prolongation of infancy. One regards 
with horror now the early marriages of only a few 
generations back. It seems to us almost an echo of 
the days of the Minotaur to hear of girls of fourteen 
or fifteen being made wives and mothers. We for- 
get to allow for the fact that these youthful brides 
were more mature in knowledge of the meaning of 
existence than are women of twenty to-day. His- 
tory is full of stories of boys of the same precocity 
mounting thrones, leading armies, presiding in coun- 
cil, at an age when our sons are still completely ab- 

[94] 



THE CHILD IN LITERATURE 

sorbed in childish games of football, and are hardly 
trusted to choose the patterns of their own trousers. 
The sons of well-to-do parents are not expected to 
be entirely self-supporting much before thirty, and 
if they have achieved anything very definite before 
they reach two-score, we call them boy-senators, or 
boy-judges, or the like. 

Only the children of the very poor are allowed 
to see life face to face. Myra Kelly, in the most re- 
markable and penetrating of her studies, shows us 
one of these products of the environment of actu- 
ality. A small Jew of twelve, who has already his 
own sweat-shop, in which he employs adult work- 
ers. A story of laughter and tears, the reader of 
which is torn between admiration and pity of that 
small mind so prodigiously developed, yet so aston- 
ishingly immature. 

All these various attitudes to the child but repeat 
what we have been looking at under other aspects 
of our modern life, and finding reflected in the mir- 
ror of modern literature. We find here also a new 
interest in our fellow creatures, a new humility of 
attitude, the concession of large liberty to them, a 
new sense of their rights, and an enormous effort at 
conscientiousness as to our behaviour and our duties 
toward them. 

This attitude toward the child is so wholly new 
[95 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

in the history of the European race, that one is in- 
clined violently to envy those sufficiently young to 
have a reasonable hope of living long enough to see 
what it will all come to. Will these new generations 
growing up in an atmosphere from which all sug- 
gestion of pain and violence is hidden, find our 
literature of the - past as incomprehensible as the 
little girl did Stevenson's verses ? Will new master- 
works have to be created as warm and shadowless as 
our modern passageways ? Into those little hands we 
must entrust all the treasures of our past — know- 
ing not at all what they will do with them. 



CONTEMPORARY POETS 

BERNARD SHAW says— and like most of 
his sayings, it is an interesting half-truth : — 

" Nevertheless, journalism is the highest form of litera- 
ture ; for all the highest literature is journalism. The writer 
who aims at producing the platitudes which are ' not for an 
age, but for all time,' has the reward of being unreadable in 
all ages ; while Plato and Aristophanes trying to knock some 
sense into the Athens of their day, Shakespeare peopling 
that same Athens with Elizabethan mechanics and War- 
wickshire hunts, Ibsen photographing the local doctors and 
vestrymen of a Norwegian parish, Carpaccio painting the 
life of St. Ursula exactly as if she were a lady Hving in the 
next street to him, are still alive and at home everywhere 
among the dust and ashes of thousands of academic, punc- 
tilious, archaeologically correct men of letters and art who 
spent their lives haughtily avoiding the journalist's vulgar 
obsession with the ephemeral. 

" I also am a journalist, and proud of it, deliberately cut- 
ting out of my works all that is not journalism, convinced 
that nothing that is not journalism will live long as litera- 
ture or be of any use while it does live. I deal with all 
periods, but I never study any period but the present, which 

[97] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

I have not yet mastered and never shall ; and as a dramatist, 
I have no clue to any historical or any other personage save 
that part of him which is myself, and which may be nine 
tenths of him or ninety-nine hundredths, as the case may be 
(if indeed I do not transcend the creature), but which, any- 
how, is all that can ever come' within my knowledge of his 
soul. The man who writes about himself and his own time 
is the only man who writes about all people and all time." 

The other half of the truth, which Shaw forgets, 
or chooses for the moment to ignore, is that the man 
who writes for all time must, in his contempora- 
neousness, express also the immortal sameness of 
human life and emotion. When Shakespeare light- 
heartedly transfers Warwickshire yokels and Eliza- 
bethan young ladies and gentlemen to the Athens of 
Theseus, their importance and eternal interest lies 
not alone in the fact that they are highly contem- 
poraneous English folk, and that future ages must 
be enormously interested in knowing how simples 
and gentles of that day really thought and felt; but 
that these later readers will be moved and touched 
by the proofs that on all fundamental questions 
these British folk feel and act as do the English 
and Americans of the twentieth century. This link 
of the human heart makes them immortal through 
their eternal actuality. 

Compare those wanderers in the Midsummer 
[98] 



CONTEMPORARY POETS 

Night with the crowd on its way to the Festival of 
Adonis, in the idyl of Theocritus, and one realizes 
how like Bottom and his friend the Joiner were to 
Praxinoe and Gorgo ; how like both Bottom and 
Praxinoe are to New Yorkers of the same class tak- 
ing the trolley to Coney Island on the Fourth of 
July, or the Londoner celebrating Lord Mayor's 
Day. The beads are separate, but the cord of life 
and feeling on which they are strung is continu- 
ous and unbroken. 

It is just through this immortality in contempo- 
raneousness that the Poets — those properly spelled 
with a capital letter — have kept their high place in 
the life of the world throughout the ages. Their ex- 
pression of the emotions of their time does not lag 
behind by even a day. The yellow journal's flaming 
extra is belated and stale by comparison. For not 
only are poets recorders of their own day : they run 
before with a torch to show the next steps in the paths 
we are treading, so that, instead of putting down our 
feet darkly and with timidity, we step boldly and 
safely forward on the road of existence. Before we, 
who are dumb, have dreamed of the bUnd changes 
taking place within our own souls, they, the poets, 
have clarified the chaos of our longings into ideals, 
and lit the aspirations by whose flame we push onto 
higher levels. 

[99] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

To the four-square man of affairs the value given 
to these rhymes in the treasury of the world's valu- 
ables has always been a matter of impatient astonish- 
ment. That a mere stringer of phrases — a "word- 
braider" — should outlive the doer of deeds, the 
creator of actual things, seems, by all the tests with 
which he is familiar, to be a mere fantastic twist of 
events contradicting every lesson of his life's expe- 
rience. That the men who have ruled and warred, 
have wrought and builded, should, nine times out 
often, be remembered only because some rhyme- 
monger chose to praise or blame them, seems to him 
like the witless mockery of a fool. And yet the prac- 
tical man does see, if he ever stops to think about 
it, that the slow furnace of elapsing time calcines all 
the concrete things he reverences to dust and no- 
thingness, and almost the only things the world saves 
from the universal destruction are the golden words 
of some maker of phrases, in his own day scarcely 
known by name to one in a thousand of his contem- 
poraries. 

Bernard Shaw has put his careless but penetrat- 
ing finger upon the reason of the weakness and evil 
days of our practisers of the gentle art, among whom 
there are but two really male voices — and they not 
of the first order; poets who have in any sense ade- 
quately expressed the life and aspiration of our time. 

[ loo ] 



CONTEMPORARY POETS 

Can anything be more tragically unimportant than 
the outgivings of most of our singers ? A good half 
of them are employed merely as "fillers '' between 
the prose articles of the magazines ; and the man 
who can express his diluted little drop of thought 
in one verse of from four to six lines is the poet who 
can best count upon disposing of his wares. For in 
the making up of the pages of a magazine there is 
frequently at the end of some article upon travel, 
at the conclusion of a short story, a small space 
which must, for the sake of symmetry, be filled, and 
a poem costs less than a colophon ! 

These little verses all appear to be made accord- 
ing to a fixed recipe — a mild sketch of landscape 
with a tag of moral. Three barred sunset-clouds, 
and a hope for something beyond them, — a morn- 
ing mist, and an aspiration that sadness and clouds 
will melt before the sun of a fuller day, — one knows 
what these fragments of preciosity will be before 
one reads them ; the formula of their manufacture 
being so invariable and so simple. This is the sort 
of pillule of poetical bread our souFs need of song 
is fed upon : — 

** The road winds over the hill 
Where sets a rose-white star; 
O tired heart, be still: 
The end is far. 

[ >°' ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

"Down in the darkening west 
The chill winds fail and veer; 
O wild heart, rest, rest! 



Or, if something longer is attempted, we get a stale 
harking back to the pastorality of the Theocritian 
days, when shepherds and shepherdesses, fauns and 
nymphs, were still a vital and actual element in the 
lives and imaginations of the listeners. It is thus 
that the singers of our day concern themselves with 
outworn toys, with airy unimportances, in the midst 
of our red centuries of change and turmoil, of crum- 
bling creeds and high discoveries. A cricket chirping 
on the hearth would as adequately voice the pro- 
digious mental and moral adventures of our potent 
age. No wonder poetry has been brushed aside in 
the midst of our so colossal affairs, and that the pipe 
of the singer is drowned in the brazen clamour of the 
market-place. 

In course of years — some dozens of these seed- 
pearls of verse having accumulated — they are gath- 
ered up by the frugal creator into a slim book, are 
printed one to a page (a penn'orth of song to such 
an infinite deal of margin), and the whole dropped 
into the sea of letters to be swallowed into oblivion 
like a meek grain of sand, having served the purpose 
of presentation copies to the poet's friends, or of 

[ I02] 



CONTEMPORARY POETS 

Christmas gifts from lazy and economical givers to 
indifferent and ungrateful acquaintances. A few lay- 
out their dreams on larger lines ; but the lines are 
mostly reminiscent, and since Tennyson, Browning, 
Swinburne, and Victor Hugo passed beyond the in- 
spiration of youth and fresh manhood, there have 
been but two men who have had even a glimmer of 
the proper labour and service of the poet ; but two 
who have in any sense seen the meaning of our 
modern life. 

It is not of course inevitably necessary that the con- 
temporary thought should move in modern scenes. 
It appears to be of no importance what frame shall 
be chosen for the picture. Shakespeare could as ade- 
quately show us the soul of his age moving about in 
an Athenian wood, a Roman Forum, an Egyptian 
palace, as in a London street or a Warwickshire lane. 
Under whatever skin we meet him and his imagi- 
nation, we meet the Elizabethan: that Englishman 
of the spacious time of the great Queen, a being of 
mingled subtlety and simplicity, the red blood of 
high and new adventures warm in his veins, the pas- 
sion and poetry of mediaeval England still folding 
him like a purple cloak sewn with vair. A creature 
of exalted chivalry, and rough greed and violence ; 
tender and delicate, vulgar and robust ; standing with 
one hand still clasped in his ancient customs and 
[ >°3 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

superstitions, but with brave eyes turned search- 
ingly upon the widening horizon of new lands and 
dreams. 

Milton might set his scene in Heaven and Hell, 
but his archangels and demons had really sat in 
the Long Parliament, or fought at Marston Moor. 
Even the clumsy cannon of his day so impressed 
his sense of actuaHty that he could not resist the 
pleasure of allowing his subliminal heroes to try their 
seraphic skill with undeveloped ordnance. They shot 
holes with it through vaporous antagonists, who paid 
slight attention to such harmless penetration, but 
were doubtless extremely interested by the scientific 
novelty of their bloodless wounds. 

Dryden's Achitophels and Absaloms were funda- 
mentally thoughtful eighteenth-century gentlemen 
and politicians, reposing at ease after the long Par- 
liamentary wars, and beginning to look backward 
with interest upon the Papal yoke discarded with so 
much difficulty ; slightly doubtful, in the continued 
ease of their new freedom, whether that yoke had 
really been so heavy as it seemed what time it was 
still upon their own necks. 

Later, Shelley, Coleridge, Keats, and Wordsworth 

plunged into the spiritual and political turmoil of 

the post-Revolutionary period, feeling the need of 

giving articulateness to the sound of the seething 

[ J04 ] 



CONTEMPORARY POETS 

streams that boiled about the feet of the old and 
new ideals, of the passing and of the new-born cen- 
tury ; expressing each, according to his nature, the 
awakening of the old pagan genius of the Western 
world, making its final effort to completely reassert 
itself and cast off the last obscuration of Eastern 
mysticism. Priests of nature, of beauty, of science, 
and of liberty, each called the blind multitude to 
come up higher into the finer air of freedom of 
mind and body. 

Their natural successors girded themselves to meet 
this new cult of the body ; these new problems of 
the soul ; these new scientific doubts that were rot- 
ting away the traditional foundations of faith and 
obedience ; and strove to find a new spiritual foot- 
ing for their generation. Browning, Tennyson, Swin- 
burne, Victor Hugo, Walt Whitman, ran on before, 
to show us the new paths we must inevitably travel. 

The poor body — so scorned, trampled on, and 
contemned throughout the long period in which 
Eastern thought dominated the mind of Europe 
— found its reincarnated Greek in Whitman. So 
sunk were we in the grossness of a false pudeur 
concerning the body that, because he had sought to 
dignify and redeem it. Whitman's name was made 
a word to be pronounced under the breath. I re- 
member that my first approach to a knowledge of 
[ -o! ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

his works was made much as one undertakes a sea 
plunge on a cold day — with every nerve braced to 
the shock ; and lo ! it was a summer sea, wholesome 
and buoyant, and the exact temperature of good red 
blood. I had heard him spoken of in whispers, as 
of a creature repellant and pornographic, and, my 
tastes not leaning to the pornographic, I had there- 
fore been cheerfully willing to omit further know- 
ledge. But hearing by chance some one read aloud 
" Out of the Cradle endlessly Rocking,** and real- 
izing that one could not afford to be ignorant of 
the man who had written that exquisite idyl of the 
sea, even if one must pick one's steps in gathering 
jewels from the mire, I rather shamefacedly bought 
a copy of his poems. And those pages, far from 
being smeared with filth, spoke the clean joyous 
innocence of the young world. To him the body 
was not a sneaking, mangy cur to be openly kicked 
out of the way, and, when its hunger grew fierce 
from starving, to be secretly glutted with the offal 
of sensual appetites. It was to him a noble temple 
of life, whose every part was to be reverenced and 
adorned ; a temple to be swept of all low things, 
to be hung with garlands, to be kept jealously in 
perfect order and repair. Upon whose altar, heaped 
with flowers and incense, were to be offered sacri- 
fices without stain ; before which altar, as before the 
[ ^^6 ] 



CONTEMPORARY POETS 

altars of the pastoral gods, hymns of gladness were 
to be sung, beautiful dances woven, and noble 
thoughts declaimed. 

The clean-natured received his ideas with rever- 
ent and delighted understanding ; but even yet the 
coarse-fibred minds hang back, and look into Whit- 
man's pages with the flushed cheek and glistening 
eyes of secret license, seeking only a sensual inter- 
pretation of his words, and neglecting in languid 
ennui his triumphant songs of patriotism, his hymns 
to nature, and his sympathy with all of life — the 
life of beasts and plants, of sea and sky, as with 
the life of man in all its forms and manifestations, 
from the humblest to the highest. 

It was the same resurrection of Greek thinking 
which inspired the golden, sonorous voice of Swin- 
burne, declaiming our need of beauty, colour, pas- 
sion, and song. Here again the dry souls that walk 
in unclean places found what their natures teach 
them to seek, but the choicer hearts, to whose shin- 
ing surfaces baser matter will not cling, recognized 
only the glowing, creative, amorous passion that 
breaks forth in the blooming glory of every May ; 
the splendid spring of youth in man and in nature. 

Browning, too, felt the changing spirit of life, 
and, under mediaeval forms, touched and revealed to 
us our own hearts in their moral struggles as thev 
[ 107 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

sought their way to new ideals of conduct. He 
endeavoured to do for his contemporaries what 
Euripides had striven for, for the Greeks of his time. 
Thus and so demanded the gods ; but how of the 
lives caught and tangled in the confusing web of 
religious duties and duties towards one's neighbours ? 

In " Sordello," in " Paracelsus," in " Pippa 
Passes," in " Bells and Pomegranates," we were 
shown the blind efforts of our own natures to recon- 
cile old laws with new conditions, to find some path 
which innocence and courage, which love and hope, 
might tread rightly and safely through the maze of 
old and new ideals. 

Tennyson dealt, in his differing fashion, with the 
same puzzles, and his Arthurian people had the 
outlook of our own century. The " Morte d* Ar- 
thur" and the " Idylls of the King" show side by 
side the changing appeal which the legends of chiv- 
alry made to the mediaeval and the modern con- 
sciousness. The Guinevere of Sir Thomas Malory 
is as unlike the fair-haired Queen of Tennyson, 
as Queen Elizabeth was unlike Queen Victoria ; as 
unlike as are the minds of the sixteenth and the 
nineteenth centuries. 

The problems of life and love, and the pressure 
of fate and temperament — always the same — must 
be met newly by each age. The human heart, with 
[ >o8 ] 



CONTEMPORARY POETS 

Its immortal needs, must yet reconcile the old ap- 
peals to the new conditions surrounding it. 

Since these men sought these reconciliations, 
— these middle paths, — the attitude of our minds 
has changed profoundly. The widening horizons 
of science have set a greater gap between the early 
nineteenth century and the early twentieth than 
opened between the tenth century and the sixteenth. 
Beliefs and ideals that held Europe for nearly two 
thousand years have crumbled to dust upon being 
opened to the light and air of chemical, biologic, and 
geologic knowledge. The individual soul- — which 
through a double millennium was the primary con- 
cern of man — has dwindled to nothingness in the 
discovery of the immensity of matter, in the pro- 
digious macrocosm and microcosm of science ; and 
the clearly defined path, along which we walked 
bearing that precious essence of immortal individ- 
ualism, has faded from our eyes in the new and 
blinding light by which we see the Universe. 

Love, Life, and Fate still remain. Though one 
be but a speck of dust, an aggregation of whirling 
atoms, of vibrating gases, nevertheless the old hu- 
man heart still lives, still feels its old hungers and 
desires. Who among our singers endeavours to point 
our way in this new world of thought ? Who ex- 
presses for us our timidities and gropings, our long- 
[ >°9] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

ings for readjustment, our need of charts, and new 
laws and codes to fit this new enormous country 
of our souls ? Certainly not the little tag-writers of 
the magazines, or the manufacturers of the vague 
pallid bits of preciosity which Blackwood calls 
"Celtery." 

Science has killed poetry, we are told. On the 
contrary, science has opened to it new skies and a 
new earth, where wider, bolder wings might be spread, 
more splendid ideas conceived, than were ever before 
permitted to singers. Milton and Dante, did they 
live now, would not confine their imaginations to 
their quaint archaic heavens and hells — that seem 
to us as touchingly naive and charming as the early 
frescoes of Cimabue and Giotto of horned devils and 
winged seraphim. In their day Dante and Mil- 
ton explored the utmost conceivable limits of their 
universe — a universe that to us seems as narrow 
as an eagle's cage ; but had the door of their igno- 
rance been opened, they would certainly never have 
hesitated to soar boldly up into the face of the 
sun. 

Darwin complained that he found in his old age 
he had lost his earlier keen relish for poetry ; and 
this confession has been used often as a warning proof 
of how the pursuit of scientific knowledge dries up 
the sense of beauty : which would be interesting if 



CONTEMPORARY POETS 

it proved anything of the sort ; but unfortunately for 
its value as an example, it happens not to do anything 
of the kind : the truth being that Darwin found in 
his old age no expression in poetry of all the vast 
and beautiful realms in which he had wandered for 
so many years. When Thomas the Rhymer came 
home from Fairyland, the old simple country-side 
seemed ever after but dull and narrow ; and Darwin, 
who had been living so long with wide prospects for 
his mind's eye, discovered that the narrow paysage 
of the older poets had lost the power to interest and 
charm. 

Even the old shibboleths and symbols have 
become half-meaningless. Our contemporary poets 
hark back to matters outworn and forgotten. We 
— with the exception of the scholarly few — are no 
longer interested in Greek thoughts and images, be- 
cause we no longer have minds permeated with study 
of their literatures, as the new generations no longer 
have their minds permeated with the knowledge of 
the Bible. Of old, every educated man was familiar 
with Hephaestus or Demeter, as he was familiar with 
J ereboam or Tiglath-Pileser. Now, men of the most 
careful mental training would cheerfully admit that 
they had never heard of any one of the four. To the 
contemporary readers of Theocritus or of Virgil, the 
pastoral and Olympic atmosphere was the back- 

[ >■■ ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

ground of their daily life, and was as vivid and vital 
to them as the steam-plough and the reaper and 
binder are to the agriculturist of to-day ; but when 
our modern poets employ the vocabulary of Arcady, 
they are touching an unstrung lute that gives back 
no response to their dull fingers. 

The outlook of the human mind in the last fifty 
years has been turned at right angles to its entire 
previous conscious aspect. In place of exclusive 
concern with human affairs, of the purely objective 
attitude toward all the rest of nature, man has, in the 
shifting of the mental kaleidoscope, been shaken 
into wholly new and subordinate relations with 
his surroundings. It is in this new, this subjective 
relation with the forces he has unchained, and as 
yet but partially mastered, that the world waits for 
the expression of its new emotions. 

" I sent my soul into the Invisible '* — 

and the souFs prodigious adventures there yet wait 
for adequate words. We stand like Balboa, " in a 
wild surmise," gazing upon the vast new ocean of 
being, and like him we are silent upon our peaks of 
Darien. No one has yet risen up from among the 
little magazine-shepherds " piping ditties of no tone," 
to sing the tremendous epic of Science. Only Rich- 
ard Wagner has tried to find some expression for 

[112] 



CONTEMPORARY POETS 

the moods of our sublime new goddess. Nature ; has 
attempted wordlessly to formulate for us her thun- 
dering seas, her quivering Polar lights, her winds 
and storms, her gigantic secrets and forces, and the 
battles of her human offspring with his mighty- 
mother and maker, who stands ever ready to devour 
her own child, but who has Nibelung hoards for him 
who will capture and bind her. 

Stevenson and Kipling are the only two of our 
contemporaries in whose verse the coming genera- 
tions will find recorded anything of our actual atti- 
tude toward ourselves and our environment ; and 
neither of the two is primarily a bard, verse being 
with both, unfortunately, but an occasional indul- 
gence, in relaxation from prose, though both are 
more likely to live by reason of their poems than of 
their prose, already drifting into the demodL Steven- 
son adumbrates a little of our mingled courage and 
humility in such songs as "A Portrait,*' "The Open 
Road," "Not Yet My Soul," and Kipling in "Our 
Lady of the Snows." From " McAndrew*s Hymn " 
our successors may guess how we felt to our new 
slave, steam. Kipling writes of machinery and of 
electricity with the same fresh and passionate relish 
with which Virgil wrote of bees or kine ; and the 
busy world of to-day pauses in its affairs to listen to 
the poetry of these things, though it lends but a lan- 
[ '^3 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

guid ear to rhymes of faun and dryad, of saint or 
saviour. Dumbly it feels the beauty and poignancy 
of its own great endeavours and discoveries, but for a 
male-voiced and competent singer of them it waits, 
as yet, in vain. 



VI 

THE LITERATURE OF DEMOCRACY 

IT were curious to enquire," — as Stevenson was 
wont to phrase it, fondly aping the savorous 
turn of speech of the past, — it were, then, curious 
to enquire as to the influence of democracy upon 
literature. Interesting to scrutinize the revolution 
in letters which followed fast upon the political 
revolution — upon that immense volte-face of the 
mental aspect of the eighteenth century as it grew 
to the larger stature of the nineteenth. The intel- 
lectual subversion was very nearly as great as the 
political; and the waves that have circled from the 
commotion have hardly yet entirely spent them- 
selves. 

As we begin to draw away from the last century, 
it becomes at last possible to estimate the results of 
its endeavours, to weigh its achievements, discern the 
real trend of its experiments. It was but yesterday 
that we ourselves were part and parcel of it; still 
too close to guess at its real size, its true profile, 
now — though dead but for a decade — it already 
draws swiftly from us and grows remote; it ceases 

[ ■■?] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

to be a surrounding aura, an encompassing atmos- 
phere. As time separates it from us, the century 
solidifies, takes on an outline, shapes into a charac- 
ter, into an entity. We begin to see its real aspect ; 
to be able to study and understand it, as we do — 
or try to do — its predecessors. We find ourselves 
growing indulgent; growing tenderly wistful of its 
special qualities; beginning to pardon its faults, as 
we always do forgive the faults of the dead when 
they no longer impact upon our sensibilities; be- 
cause we see of the dead, as we never can of the liv- 
ing, the inevitable necessity of their being what they 
were. We grow capable, looking back upon this so 
lately deceased epoch, of smiling tenderly as we con- 
sider its peculiarities and its weaknesses. We can 
appreciate the quaintness and endearing humour of 
its individual characteristics. We begin to grasp the 
causes — good and adequate ones, too — of those 
characteristics — causes that were not always obvi- 
ous to us while we lived with it and were "rubbed 
the wrong way" by the needs of its being. Its great- 
ness we always saw, but we were not always able to 
discern the wherefore of the defects of its large qual- 
ities. We can now judge somewhat the futilities and 
the virtues of its political ventures ; can understand 
the literary expression of its life. 

In the nineteenth century literature became, for 
[ "6] 



THE LITERATURE OF DEMOCRACY 

the first time in history, the immediate expression 
of the multitude, of the people. Not only did the 
mass for the first time become aware of itself and 
of its large new potencies and privileges, aware of a 
need of expression ; but the immense sudden devel- 
opment of mechanical invention made books suffi- 
ciently cheap to be within reach of all the world of 
the Occident. Books, which had been so rare and 
expensive that only those avid of their contents had 
sought such luxuries, became the common food of 
all. General education, too, opened to the multitude 
the mysterious arcana of the practice of letters, where 
heretofore only the special and gifted few had offi- 
ciated as priests — priests jealous of admitting neo- 
phytes, displaying a hierarchy's invariable attitude 
of superiority and exclusiveness. Of old, to be an 
initiate it was imperative that one should be dowered 
with special gifts and appreciations; and within the 
circle of those thus set apart, the usual ceremonies, 
laws, and esoteric intricacies of cult had been de- 
veloped and preserved. The scholar, the maker of 
literature, though necessarily a man of his time and 
to some extent the mouthpiece of his age, yet knew 
that his efforts would be submitted for a final judge- 
ment to those of his own order; would be estimated 
by those who, like himself, were appointed by the 
irresistible election of nature to the study and ex- 
[ >i7] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

pression of human ideals and hopes, of human his- 
tory and human life. 

The coming of new conditions, of democracy, and 
of mechanical achievement, suddenly swept away 
the aristocratic privileges of the Order of Artists. 
No more was the long study and painful service 
of the novitiate of literature necessary. Whosoever 
would might lift the veil and serve at the altar ; and 
only those who pleased the bulk of the congregation 
were permitted to eat of the offerings, or to claim 
the emoluments of the temple. Contumacious pro- 
phets there might be, who roamed the wilderness, 
unsubservient to the dictates of a stodgy vestry ; but 
they could not hope to partake of the baked meats 
of fat livings. They must perforce be content to 
fare hardly on such few locusts as came their way, 
and to season their meagre meals with but an occa- 
sional taste of wild honey. 

The new congregations cared little for the old 
rules of the literary cult; they were indifferent to 
any of the prescribed rituals and genuflexions. 
Their preachers were required to speak in the ver- 
nacular. Only good rousing sermons in a language 
understood of the people ensured plump, promptly 
paid salaries. 

All of which was very natural, when it is consid- 
ered that the new audience was newly come by any 
[ "8] 



THE LITERATURE OF DEMOCRACY 

acquaintance whatever with literary expression of 
thought. Such as these must of necessity go halt- 
ingly at first, as a child does — spelling out ideas of 
few syllables, sentences with no complexity; savour- 
ing the fundamentals of reflexion, such as to schol- 
ars had long served as mere axioms, the unseen 
cornerstones on which they erected the structure 
of their thinking. Stevenson, speaking of children, 
says, in " Random Memories" : — 

" Through what little channels, by what hints and pre- 
monitions, the consciousness of the man's art dawns first 
upon the child, it should be not only interesting but instruc- 
tive to enquire. A matter of curiosity to-day, it will become 
the ground of science to-morrow. The child is conscious 
of an interest, not in literature, but in life. A taste for the 
precise, the adroit, or the comely in the use of words, comes 
late. But long before that he has enjoyed in books a de- 
lightful dress-rehearsal of experience." 

In the art of literary expression, the new demo- 
cracy were but " infants crying for the light." The 
new mass of readers had small time or patience for 
intricacies or complexities of thought; small relish 
for the beauties of style. They desired something 
plain and comprehensible. Some statement of fact, 
some suggestion of natural sentiment as common 
to the peasant as to the peer ; mother-love, a long- 
ing for home, or resignation to fate, expressed for 
[ ^^9] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

them in idiomatic, simple language. " Home, Sweet 
Home," "Rock Me to Sleep, Mother," "I would 
not Live Alway," were literally the songs that gushed 
from the heart of the bourgeoisie ; and they wanted 
their emotions to be expressed in unfaceted words, 
with no nuances of colour or suggestion. Airy fine- 
ness ; expression " drenched and intoxicated with the 
fairy dew of natural magic"; "those golden, ease- 
ful, crowning moments of a manner," which make 
literature something more than a mere statement in 
words, were as unimportant to them as the tinted 
impalpable feathers upon the vans of a butterfly are 
unimportant and imperceptible to the ox feeding in 
the meadows. 

"Poor Richard's Almanack " was, they thought, 
something like; these were phrases they could get 
their teeth into, so to speak. Incontrovertible state- 
ments of general experience, expressed with no puz- 
zling obliqueness or vagueness, were really valuable 
aids in the conduct of one's daily life. They liked 
what was offered them — inverse especially — to be 
straightforward, lucid, earnest. Their minds were 
aware of no demand for what Matthew Arnold de- 
scribes as " that peculiar kneading, heightening, and 
recasting which is observable in style — which seems 
to have for its cause a certain pressure of emotion, 
and an ever-surging, yet bridled, excitement in the 
[ I20] 



THE LITERATURE OF DEMOCRACY 

writer, giving a special intensity to his way of de- 
livering himself." 

Such a gem as this, from Cowper, is a perfect ex- 
ample of the verse that was beloved of the young 
democracy : — 

** Do I regret the past ? 
Would I live o'er again 
The morning hours of life? 
Nay, William, nay, not so! 
Praise be to God who made me what I am ; 
Other I would not be." 

There was no unwholesome intoxication of the 
fairy dew of natural magic about that. It was as 
simple, as free from puzzling complexity, as the bleat- 
ing of a calf; as piously unaffected as the clucking 
of a barnyard hen. This was a tranquil pool of the 
platitudinous, in which one might swim about with 
calm confidence of not losing one's breath, or get- 
ting out of one's depth. 

At that period the reading-world found the time 
and the perseverance to devour Cowper's "Task," 
to wade through Southey's " Curse of Kehama," to 
absorb "The Excursion," and "Peter Bell." Such 
lucubrations they felt were delightfully safe, sooth- 
ingly dull. Shelley and Byron and Keats dared to 
scoff at and outrage the good solemn middle class, 
but at their peril. The blind imponderable weight of 
[ '^' ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

a disgusted and shocked democracy crushed all 
three. 

But looked at from this ever-increasing distance, 
one grows amusedly patient of the reign of the ob- 
vious in the early nineteenth century. Contempt- 
uous irritability melts into a humorous tenderness 
for the mild affectations of the time. One becomes 
enamoured of the old-fashioned dearnesses and queer- 
nesses of the period of ringlets and ruffled shirt- 
bosoms, when that Bard of the Banal, the youthful 
Longfellow, created some of its most delicious mas- 
terpieces, and stirred all hearts with noble adjura- 
tions to 

" Let us, then, be up and doing. 
With a heart for any fate. 
Still achieving, still pursuing. 
Learn to labor, and to wait ! * * 

Or Tennyson stated with solemn insistence that 

" *Tis only noble to be good. 
Kind hearts are more than coronets. 
And simple faith than Norman blood.** 

How many an elocutionist at that period — in 
a simple black silk, brightened at the neck with a 
tulle bow and a bit of scarlet geranium — tossed back 
the real lace ruffles from about her wrists and simply 
demolished that deplorable aristocrat. Lady Clara 
[ 12^ ] 



THE LITERATURE OF DEMOCRACY 

Vere de Vere, with a fine gesture and a nasal em- 
phasis of this splendid truth. 

It was the epoch of scrap-books — those mental 
rag-bags in which were collected, by ladies of liter- 
ary tastes, odds and ends of axiomatic thought: the 
same sort of trenchant truisms which they felt called 
upon to underline in pencil when they came upon 
them in the burning pages of the lending-libraries' 
volumes; adding "How true!" in faint, graceful 
Italian script on the margin of the page. Between 
gentle stanzas on "Moonlight," "First Love," and 
the like, they interspersed (among pressed flowers) 
seccant outlines of irrefutable bromides. 

"Life is a comedy to those who think; a tra- 
gedy to those who feel," was a special scrap-book 
favourite, I remember; and this Rochefoucauldian 
apothegm was felt to be extremely cynical and dash- 
ing. The truly gentle — those whose ringlets curled 
naturally — shrank from its biting irony. No doubt 
a melancholy necessity for the use of curling-tongs 
tended to a proud bitterness ! 

Tennyson and Longfellow, having been born 
to grow wings, emerged eventually from the pupa 
stage, and climbed laboriously out of this welter of 
the commonplace, cast off the trammels of demo- 
cracy's limited taste, and worked into a wider air. 

Others, however, arose to fill the need they had 
[ 1^3 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

not wholly satisfied : philosophers of the obvious 
— of the obvious transposed to the bass clef, with 
thrilling reverberations of the platitude expressed 
in tones of resonant solemnity. 

Ponder, for example, these weighty fulminations 
in an essay upon " The Poet," very popular in its 
day : — 

"Those who are esteemed umpires of taste are often 
persons who have acquired some knowledge of admired 
pictures and sculptures, and have an inclination for what- 
ever is elegant ; but if you enquire whether they are beau- 
tiful souls, you learn that they are selfish and sensual. . . . 

" If thou fill thy brain with Boston and New York, with 
fashion andcovetousness, and will stimulate thy jaded senses 
with wine and French coffee, thou wilt find no radiance 
of wisdom in the lonely waste of the pine woods." 

New England boiled coflFee might pass ; but plainly 
there was something immorally suggestive in a bev- 
erage loose enough to be French. 

Or, again, barken to this delightful bit of solemn 
homespun judgement upon poets not so blessed as 
to have been born Americans : — 

" America is a poem in our eyes ; its ample geography 
dazzles the imagination, and it will not wait long for 
metres. If I have not found that excellent combination of 
gifts in my countrymen which I seek, neither could I aid 
myself to fix the idea of the poet by reading now and then 
[ 'H ] 



THE LITERATURE OF DEMOCRACY 

in Chalmers's collection of five centuries of English poets* 
These are wits more than poets, though there have been 
poets among them. But when we adhere to the ideal of the 
poet we have our difficulties even with Pvlilton and Homer. 
Milton is too literary^ and Homer too literal and historical" 

The italics are not the author's, but are irresist- 
ible to bring out the complete deliciousness of the 
passage. It was characteristic of his time and type 
that he should conceive a poet's imagination as 
dazzled by mere geographic bulk, unaware, or for- 
getting, how little Greece and little England had 
sufficed for the inspiration of Homer and Sophocles, 
of Shakespeare and Milton. 

Democracy crowded the lecture-rooms to be told 
that 

" Raptures, could we prolong them at pleasure, would 
dissipate us. A sip is the most that mortals are permitted 
from any goblet of delight." Or that " Ideals are possi- 
bilities, and persons handsomest viewed by the mind's eye, 
as beautiful estates seen in the distance. Such is the charm 
of the perspective. But the moment we covet them as ours 
and ours only, their glory departs, the beauty fades, and 
they are worthless in our eyes, robbed of all that made 
them so desirable to us." 

There is something touchingly quaint in the mem- 
ory of these artless philosophers journeying about 
to the provincial lyceums, laden with their narrow 
[ '^5 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

ideas, their stark banalities ; delivering them with all 
the authority of inspiration to equally earnest and 
aspiring audiences, who went home to look up in 
the dictionary the unfamiliar words, deriving there- 
from what a certain class still describes as " a great 
sense of spiritual uplift." 

Yet the mass was being slowly lifted. Through 
these A B C's of thinking, they were laboriously 
spelling their way into the book of ideas; were 
learning to read more clearly the volume of life ; 
gaining the power to pass beyond the primer of re- 
flexion. So, when the famous, the beloved Martin 
Farquhar Tupper came, he found set for him the 
task of writing the epilogue of the Book of Bro- 
mides. Not because of any loss of appetite for the 
axiomatic on his own part, but that by his outra- 
geous overfeeding of their propensity, he gorged 
even the public's vigorous hunger for truisms to 
the point of disastrous reaction. 

I can remember when his "Proverbial Philoso- 
phy " — then passing through edition after edition 
— still lay on the marble-topped centre-table. That 
piece of furniture was the proudest feature of every 
well-organized American household. An argand 
lamp, rising from a fluffy woollen mat, invariably 
adorned the beloved table; and this valuable objet 
(Tart was flanked at obtuse angles by Books of 
[ '^6] 



THE LITERATURE OF DEMOCRACY 

Beauty, and Friendship's Offerings in binding of 
almost Sardanapalian splendour. The "Proverbial 
Philosophy" — clad also with discreet richness — 
.shared always, in genteel homes, the chaste precincts 
of this meagre little altar to culture. 

Alas ! one must now search the larger, older pub- 
lic libraries — frigid mausoleums of so many dead 
favourites — to rescue those undeniable truths that 
were once on every tongue. 

The mid- Victorian era found infinite satisfac- 
tion in such philosophic proverbs as this one " On 
Marriage" : — 

" Take heed that what charmeth thee is real, nor spring- 
eth of thine own imagination ; and sufFer not trifles to win 
thy love, for a wife is thine unto death. The harp and 
voice may thrill thee — sound may enchant thine ear, but 
consider thou, the hand will wither and the sweet notes 
turn to discord. The eye so brilliant at even may be red 
with sorrow in the morning ; and the sylph-like form of 
elegance must wither in the crampings of pain." 

Or this as regards " Experience " : — 

" I knew that in the morning of life, before the weari- 
some journey, the youthful soul doth expand in the simple 
luxury of being; it hath not contracted its wishes, nor set 
a limit to its hopes ; the wing of fancy is unclipt, and sin 
hath not seared the feelings." 

[ '^7 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

Of course the margins were left broad in Tup- 
per's volume, that one might pencil again and 
again in an ecstasy of assent, " How true ! " after 
such gems as this, " Of Discretion " : — 

" There be few^ O child of Sensibility, who deserve to 
have thy confidence ; yet weep not, for there are some, 
and some such live for thee ; to them is the chilling world 
a drear and barren scene, and gladly seek they such as 
thou art." 

Poor Martin has vanished into Limbo ; yet before 
closing the door of smiling forgetfulness upon him, 
it is interesting to compare quotations from the 
" Proverbial Philosophy " and from some of the 
most famous essays and lectures of his day. Who, 
without consulting the books, can say offhand 
which bit of solemn twaddle is which ? 

" Follow the star first seen in your early morning, nor 
desist though you find the labour toilsome and your guides 
mislead." 

" The shaft of life is wreathed with the human affec- 
tions, as the vine embraces the column and climbs into the 
sun's rays while its roots are nourished from the mould at 
its base." 

" We can drive a stone upward for a moment into the 
air, but it is yet true that all stones will forever fall ; and 
whatever instances can be quoted of unpunished theft, or 
[ '^8] 



THE LITERATURE OF DEMOCRACY 

a lie somebody credited, justice must prevail, and it is the 
privilege of truth to make itself believed.'* 

" Zeal without judgement is an evil, though it be zeal 
unto good. The vessel founders at sea if a storm have 
unshipped the rudder." 

And our earnest and unimpeachably moral an- 
cestors drank in this liquid absurdity with the 
eagerness of sponges — up to the point of mental 
saturation ! 

It may be imagined how Poe startled this inno- 
cent atmosphere with his glooms and terrors, his 
acrid ironies and bold imaginings. 

** My love, she sleeps! Oh, may her sleep. 
As it is lasting, so be deep! 
Soft may the worms about her creep! 
Far in the forest dim and old. 
For her may some tall vault unfold — 
Some vault that oft has flung its black 
And winged panels fluttering back. 
Triumphant o'er the crested palls 
Of her grand family funerals!" 

It may be imagined how such lines as these, or such 
delicately poignant poems as " For Annie," ran far 
ahead of the appreciation of those who found in the 
"Psalm of Life" the ultimate expression of their 
poetic needs. 

Poe was one of the old hierarchy; one of the 
[ '^9] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

ancient order of artists, practising assiduously the 
rules of the cult — weeping, suffering, bleeding, in 
the cruel novitiate that led to the dignities and free- 
dom of the inner mysteries of the priesthood of art. 
The easy banal facility of his contemporaries could 
not satisfy the self-exacting sense of beauty of the 
poet who created " The City of the Sea." 

*' No rays from the holy heaven come down 
On the long night-time of that town; 
But light from out the lurid sea 
Streams up the turrets silently — 
Gleams up the pinnacles far and free — 
Up domes — up spires — up kingly halls — 
Up fanes — up Babylon-like walls — 
Up shadowy long-forgotten boWers 
Of sculptured ivy and stone flowers — 
Up many and many a marvellous shrine 
Whose wreathed friezes intertwine 
The viol, the violet, and the vine. 
Resignedly beneath the sky 
The melancholy waters lie. 
So blend the turrets and shadows there 
That all seems pendulous in air. 
While from a proud tower in the town 
Death looks gigantically down.*' 

It is only necessary to read the variorum editions 
of his poems to see how these lines were pruned, 
filled out, altered, and rearranged, before they ac- 
quired the antiphonal cadences of their thrilling 
[ '30 ] 



THE LITERATURE OF DEMOCRACY 

vibrations, those sonorous undertones, that velvety, 
muffled music. 

And how his trenchant criticisms of the current 
literature stung the popular purveyors of the bro- 
midic ! Of course, much of Poe*s reviewing was mere 
pot-boiling : made-to-order praise of local writers, 
demanded by editors who paid so much a line ; — 
not even so much a line as the proverbial penny, 
alas ! — to this poor harried, starveling poet. Apollo 
was set to herding the flocks of Admetus, and the 
wages were low. But occasionally Poe wrote criti- 
cism to please himself, to express his own acute 
judgement; and how violently the "six best-sellers" 
of the day resented his penetrating assay of their 
real value, we know. At the time they revenged 
themselves by inventing scandals : by accusing of 
sottishness the man who, before the age of forty, had 
produced sixteen volumes; who had evolved an 
entirely new style in verse and in it produced half 
a dozen classic lyrics ; who [had created the only 
important criticism done in America up to that 
time; who had made himself master of the art of 
the short story, and embodied in his own tales the 
inspiration and suggestion of half of his successors. 
Every work that came from his hand was created 
with the painstaking toil of the exact artist. To-day, 
enough is known of the effects of alcohol to make 
[ -s- ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

it sure that a sot cannot labour continuously, devot- 
edly, patiently ; but the nine-lived vivacity of a libel 
has been shown in most of the comment awakened 
by the recent centennial of Poe*s birth, in which the 
air of indulgent pardon is assumed to this passion- 
ately industrious student and creator. 

Even yet a mordant bitterness lingers in the New 
England mind against Poe; a sense of outrage that 
the critics of Europe should have singled him out as 
the one American — save Whitman — sufficiently 
important to merit volumes of criticism and analysis, 
to be worthy of laborious and skilful translation, 
when the names of our didactic versifiers awaken not 
an echo in their consciousness. The American critic, 
Mr. Brov/nell,has recently, with impatient contempt, 
striven to show these wilful Europeans how mistaken 
is their judgement. He accuses Poe of " lack of sub- 
stance," and — amusingly enough — of " aridity of 
imagination." He brushes scornfully aside, with 
scarcely a mention, that ablest and most sustained of 
all stories of adventure, " The Strange Adventures 
of Arthur Gordon Pym," and ignores that terrifying 
study of a broken mind struggling with the tor- 
tures of insanity, "A Tell-Tale Heart," to found 
his attack upon the uneven youthful experiment, 
"Berenice," written before Poe had mastered his 
medium. Dawson, on the other hand, says : — 
[ 132] 



THE LITERATURE OF DEMOCRACY 

" But the true creator of the modern short story in 
American literature is neither Irving nor Hawthorne : that 
honour belongs to Poe. Poe brought to his task precisely 
those gifts most essential to achievement : a powerful reason 
of unusual subtlety, an imagination of extraordinary vivid- 
ness, a faculty of observation only less extraordinary, and, 
above all, a mind wholly free, wholly unfettered by tradi- 
tion, and almost insolently scornful of accepted canons. 
His self-confidence is superb; in a man less singularly 
gifted it would have been ridiculous. His originality is 
found in the fact that he was the first man to recognize 
completely the artistic possibilities of the short story. He 
found in it sufficient vehicle for the expression of his 
genius. He brought to it the highest and rarest genius not 
only of his age, but of his nation. Both in poetry and 
in short-story writing Poe stands first in the literature of 
America." 

Mr. Brownell slurs over the intense emotional 
simplicity of " The Sleeper" and " For Annie," to 
flout " The Raven" and "The Bells." These two 
last had a certain vogue in their day ; for even the 
democratic multitude had a recognition for the adroit 
and the nimble, when raised, as in these examples, 
to the ;^th power. Poe himself, while not averse to 
somewhat cynically exploiting the only two of his 
poems which achieved a wide popularity in America, 
had too just a critical sense not to be aware of their 
inferiority to the limpid, restrained passion of his 
[ ^33 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

verse at his highest, when he shook himself free 
of mannerisms and of the temptation of the tour de 
force, to rise into pure lyrism. 

There are less than half a dozen of these higher 
flights, but a man may be truly judged only by 
his utmost possible. To reckon Shakespeare by 
"Titus Andronicus" rather than by "Hamlet" or 
"Macbeth," would be wholly to alter his place 
in the world of letters. When it is remembered 
how hardly Poe lived at all, how cruelly he was 
imprisoned in a provincial Philistine environment, 
acutely inimical to him, how poverty forced him 
from the pursuit of perfection to earn his bread by 
meagrely paid journalism, and how very short 
after all was his unhappy existence, to have created 
even so many classics was a sufficient record of well- 
doing. 

Emerson — very naturally, perhaps, considering 
the quality and character of his own equipment — 
dismissed Poe fleeringly as "the jingle man," and 
continued to delight his large audiences with rotund 
utterances which, boiled down and strained, con- 
tained the irrefutable truth that " to be good is to 
be good and to be bad is to be wicked." 

By way of interjection, it is irresistible to quote 
from Swinburne's letter to E. C. Stedman, apropos 
of that coterie of hard-eyed, self-satisfied Pharisees, 
[ >34] 



THE LITERATURE OF DEMOCRACY 

all of whom so industriously and resentfully depre- 
cated Poe : — 

" But the thing more necessary, though it may be less 
noble than these, is the pulse, the fire, the passion of 
music, the quality of a singer, not of a solitary philosopher 
or patriotic orator. 

" Now, when Whitman is not speaking bad prose he 
sings, and when he sings at all he sings well. Mr. Long- 
fellow has a pretty little pipe of his own, but surely it is 
very thin and reedy. Again, whatever may be Mr. Emer- 
son's merits, to talk of his poetry seems to me to be like 
talking of the scholarship of a child who has not yet 
learned its letters. 

" Even Browning's verse always goes to a recognizable 
tune. I say not to a good one. But in the name of all bag- 
pipes, what is the tune of Emerson's ? Now, it is a poor 
thing to have nothing but melody and to be unable to 
rise above into harmony. But one or other, the less if not 
the greater, you must have. Imagine a man full of great 
thoughts and emotions resolved to express them in a paint- 
ing who has absolutely no power upon form or colour ! . . . 

" In Whittier power, pathos, righteousness (to use a 
great old word that should not be left to the pulpiteers) of 
noble emotion, would be more enjoyable and admirable if 
he were not so deplorably ready to put up with the first word, 
good or bad, that comes to hand, and to run on long after 
he is out of breath. 

" Mr. Lowell's verse, when out of the Biglow costume, 

[ >35 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

I never could bring myself to care for at all. You know 
my theory, that nothing which can as well be said in prose 
ought ever to be said in verse." 

Poe, poor young priest of art, was driven to death 
in the desert. But before he went he effectually shook 
the hold upon the pubHc of the purveyors of the 
banal. The wild thrilling strains of his song, though 
so soon hushed, had roused the ear of the world to 
note the flatness of the accepted drone. 

The heart of the multitude was haunted by the 
strange penetrating assonance of his voice ; was 
stirred to unrest by his bold imaginings, and was 
no longer able to rest content with the common- 
place. After the rapture of the nightingale the chirp- 
ing of the sparrows was an iterant ennui. That 
unutterable welter of twaddle began to ebb, driven 
back slowly ; lingering in many wide pools, up the 
shores of many obscure bays, but allowing to emerge 
at last the heads of those taller of mind than their 
fellows. 

Democracy had mastered the simpler forms of the 
language of human thought and feeling, and was 
ready to pass on to higher things. 



VII 

STRONG MEAT FOR THE MASSES 

THE author whose productions are of such irre- 
sistible savouriness as to induce his fellow men 
to purchase two thousand copies of his book, is con- 
sidered by his publishers to have achieved a respect- 
able success; if ten thousand copies are called for, he 
is deemed popular; but he who reaches the noble 
number of one hundred thousand moves up into 
that golden empyrean reserved for " the six best- 
sellers." Paragraphs about his score at golf are held 
to be appetizing tidbits of information worthy of 
record in the daily press, and a listening world hangs 
breathless upon the tale of the number of pieces of 
sugar with which he sweetens his matutinal coffee. 
He becomes the subject of illustrated articles in the 
literary reviews, and we are allowed to make the 
pictured acquaintance of his pet dog, of his wife and 
children, of his garden, and of his motor-car. We 
receive with thrilling interest his own enthusiastic 
and artless confidences as to his literary methods, his 
recollections of his childhood, and what he solemnly 
announces is his real message to humanity. 
[ -37] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

Which is all very moving, until one reckons up 
the English-speaking world as consisting of about 
one hundred and fifty millions of persons ; remem- 
ber that most of these millions are literate, that the 
majority are more than fifteen years of age, and read 
— at least, occasionally — a book. Looked at from 
the point of view of such bulky figures, how truly 
meagre is the vogue of even this startling seller. A 
penn^orth of bread to such an infinite deal of sack ! 
The hundred thousand dwindles away to the almost 
imperceptible percentage of but .00066 readers in 
the writer's own language ! Applying this percent- 
age test to the Caucasian race alone would force him 
to move most of the naughts of his thousands in 
front of the decimal figure, and the area of the im- 
pact of his message to humanity becomes so circum- 
scribed as to have left the unlucky race practically 
untouched. Of course, the number of copies sold is 
not in strict justice a proper measure of the number 
of those he has reached, as books pass from hand to 
hand privately as well as in libraries; but allowing 
the liberal average of ten readers for each copy, this 
benefactor has reached but a modest ,66 per cent 
of his fellow beings. " David Harum," said to have 
had the longest and best sale of any American book, 
has at this date sold one million copies. There are, 
in round numbers, eighteen million families in Amer- 
[ '38] 



STRONG MEAT FOR THE MASSES 

ica, so that even " David Harum'* has reached only- 
one out of every eighteen families. 

What do all these English-speaking millions read, 
since even the most popular writers fail to appeal 
to more than this minute portion of the whole? 
What literary influences mould the minds of our 
race ? From whence, and in what form, emerge the 
thoughts that shape the masses? How do those 
masses evolve their ideals? Who are their guides 
— who their real teachers? Who voices their aspira- 
tions, their emotions, and their dreams? 

The newspaper, of course, finds in some form 
practically all of them. Farmer Corntossel receives 
his weekly journal in the remotest corner of Texas; 
the lumber-jack patiently thumbs back numbers in 
his camp amid the Oregon pines; the miner orders 
his paper to follow him over Chilkoot Pass ; and the 
fisherman off the Banks receives it gratefully from 
passing ships. 

It is perhaps not too much to say that at least a 
third of humanity never deflowers its virgin vacuity 
with any form of literature less ephemeral than a 
newspaper in the whole course of its adult existence. 
The crude, poster-like splashes of the yellow jour- 
nal's caricature of life are the only impression they 
ever get from printed words. What, in Heaven's 
name, must be the conception of this world of 
[ '39 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

men formed by minds nurtured upon the grotesque 
misrepresentations of the sensational press? A 
wild, crooked, shrieking hodge-podge of — "Lovely 
Garbage-sorter marries Millionaire"; "Aristo- 
cratic Shop-girl Done to Death by Clubman " ; 
" Beautiful Circus-rider Spattered in Arena by Mad 
Plunge"; " Society Queens Posture in Tights while 
Smoking Cigarettes made of Tea." 

What a danse macabre must this world appear to 
such as find their pleasure in these things! Through 
the grey film of their foreground of immediate 
drudgeries and limitations, there must glimmer 
lurid shadow-shapes, as of distorted lantern-slides, 
where Aubrey Beardsley-like figures writhe in im- 
possible postures and episodes. Or does the fren- 
zied cacaphony of the reptile-press die away in mur- 
murs upon the solid carapace of their dulness, 
penetrating it eventually as a merely mild and 
pleasing vibration? 

Setting aside the clientele of the popular author, 
and the remnant to whom sensational journalism 
makes exclusive appeal, there is yet to be considered 
the bulk of the English-reading world. To whom 
do they look for articulate expression of their needs? 
Books they have, but they pasture for the most part 
on various forms of periodic literature which study, 
and endeavour to supply, their demands. Some of 
[ HO] 



STRONG MEAT FOR THE MASSES 

these sources of pleasure are entirely unknown to 
the bourgeois world. Years ago I stumbled by acci- 
dent upon one of these, in the form of a weekly 
paper, originally founded by a patent-medicine com- 
pany to exploit the virtues of its " strictly vegetable " 
relief for anguished insides. In its earliest pam- 
phlet form, it interspersed occasional anecdotes and 
stray verses amid paeans of praise of its proprietary 
remedy, and gave a copy away with each bottle. So 
adroitly were these anecdotes and verses chosen, 
that the optimistic purchasers of the belauded spe- 
cific seized upon the paper with even greater avidity 
than upon the nostrum; and almost insensibly the 
pamphlet grew into a weekly paper, issued independ- 
ently of the drug. It was, when I made its acquaint- 
ance, still given to relating in odd corners how a 
few doses of the miraculous medicine would arouse 
in even the most languid invalid an irresistible 
desire to chop a number of cords of wood and walk 
not less than five miles before breakfast. It was still 
anecdotal and tidbitty, but its columns were mainly 
devoted to penny-dreadful fiction; and this publica- 
tion had a paid subscription of seventy thousand, 
not inclusive of the subscriptions presented as a gift 
to those purchasing half a dozen bottles of the rem- 
edy. I am not sure whether this weekly still exists, 
but even at that time it was seen on no news-stand, 

[ HI ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

and it is safe to say that not one in ten thousand 
of what is known as the reading public was even 
remotely aware of its existence. Yet it reached a 
wide and admiring audience. 

There are hundreds of such weekly journals in 
existence to-day : equally obscure to us, equally 
popular and famous among the intellectually sub- 
merged tenth of the English-speaking peoples. 

Certainly these periodicals — all of whose con- 
tents are so surprisingly similar — give a good 
deal for the price, which ranges from two dollars 
down to fifty cents a year. They must have, too, 
a certain educational value, for, aside from the fic- 
tion they purvey, each and all are so welteringly 
instructive. In generalities they deal not at all: 
all is concrete — as concrete as a bullet. Without 
apropos des hottes^ or any gentler method of soft- 
ening the impact, the reader has fired into him the 
startling statement that if Rockefeller's wealth were 
coined into dollars, and these dollars used as pave- 
ment, it would be possible to construct a positively 
practicable wagon-road of silver from Oshkosh to 
Podunk. 

A mathematical triumph of this sort must be full 
of mental stimulus and " spiritual uplift " to the 
readers. 

Or else it begins abruptly : — 
[ 142 ] 



STRONG MEAT FOR THE MASSES 

" It is estimated that enough whiskey and beer is pro- 
duced and drunk in the United States every year to make a 
fall as great as that of Niagara for six consecutive hours." 

It can readily be seen how richly this sort of thing 
conduces to culture, and to agreeable light conver- 
sation. No reflexions upon the stark fact are offered ; 
no moral lessons hinted. There are the figures : you 
must work out for yourself its human equation. 

At the end of a column which leaves the wicked 
Earl with his dagger raised above the hapless hero- 
ine's palpitating heart, or with the hot breath of the 
grizzly crisping Old Sleuth's nuque^ it brusquely 
suggests in brackets \jro be continued^ , and adds with 
cold remoteness that the volcano of Popocatepetl 
is 17,540 feet high! 

These lumps of heterogeneous information lead to 
nothing; are led up to by nothing. They are infor- 
mation for information's sake, and seem to have the 
same charm and value for the readers that the dusty 
sea-shell on the " what-not" had for our simpler an- 
cestors — a detached treasure-trove from the limit- 
less sea — though it served no purpose of daily needs. 

But anecdotes and the disjecta membra of infor- 
mation serve only to fill the chinks. The main body 
of the contents of these hebdomadal visitors consists 
of fiction. For fiction the appetite of their readers is 
practically insatiable. This is not a new tendency. 
[ H3 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

The people have always loved a tale, and though 
there be those who affect to scorn fiction, so well- 
balanced a thinker as Aristotle was of the opinion 
that the highest and rarest element in literature is 
a first-rate story adequately unfolded. Long before 
Pope was born, it was recognized that the proper 
study of mankind was man — though it must be 
admitted that man as found in these weekly papers 
is a " fearful wild fowl." 

Fiction is the study, or attempted study, of man 
— man struggling in the grip of fate and passion, 
fighting the elements, subduing his natural enemies, 
adjusting himself to success or defeat, loving, breed- 
ing, toiling, rejoicing, dying. All these elements of 
fiction are to be found in every folk-literature, in 
every land, among all races. The earliest form in 
which it reached the masses was as the fable and the 
fairy tale. The fable was the form in which fiction 
clothed itself before the unfortunate exclusiveness 
of humanity had shut away our animal friends into 
the stable, the kennel, and the byre. When the pig 
still lay alongside the peasant in the cabin ; when 
the dog slept in the rushes and shared the meal 
in the hall ; when the horse was free of the tent, and 
the shepherd couched with his flocks and herds be- 
neath the stars, there was no sense of divorce between 
man and his fellow beasts. The similarity of their 
[ H4 ] 



STRONG MEAT FOR THE MASSES 

hopes and passions was frankly recognized, and the 
beast's likeness was freely used to explain the aspi- 
rations and the qualities of his friend and comrade, 
man. Br'er Rabbit, King Deer, A'nancy the Spider, 
the Great Mr. Tiger, Reineke Fiichs, the Tortoise, 
the Lion, Hanuman the Monkey, and Kaa the 
Python, all typified the characteristics man recog- 
nized as his own as well as theirs, and such arch 
nature-fakirs as iEsop, and the nameless creators of 
folk-lore, drew equally upon the adventures and the 
qualities of man and beast to build up an epigram- 
matic criticism of life. 

But while alongside the lowly, primitive tale-teller 
was his fellow animal, above him were forces and 
powers upon which he also speculated and pondered. 
It was from observation of these higher powers that 
the peoples built for themselves other tales of kings 
and princes, fairies, genii, and gods. These, they felt, 
moved in a larger air, had adventures on a more 
dazzling scale; yet, happily, were not so remote but 
that with luck, or supernatural aid, one might climb 
to their loftier plane and share the richness of their 
bright-hued fates. The swineherd's daughter might 
happen upon a prince strayed from the hunt in the 
forest, and so achieve translation to a throne. The 
shepherd boy might win a princess by journeying 
east of the sun and west of the moon to find the 
[ H5 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

Singing- Water, which that capricious young woman 
considered the only possibly satisfactory wedding- 
gift. Or a fisherman might perchance haul up in his 
nets one day a golden treasure that should suddenly 
change him into an eligible parti for son-in-law to 
a king in financial straits. 

It was the holding out of these vague but lovely 
possibilities that made for the fairy tale its peren- 
nial charm. However grey or weary life might be, 
it always held at the foot of the shimmering arch 
of hope the possible pot of gold. Count no man 
inevitably unhappy until he was dead. It was this 
hope, this possibility, that lightened the long, dusty 
march to the grave. It gave one courage to face life 
to listen to these stories of how such an one — a plain 
creature just like you or me — came suddenly to a 
turn in the road, a dip in the plain, and lo ! green 
pastures for the weary feet ; still waters for the parched 
mouth ; freedom from the daily care ; sweet airs in 
which to spread the wings folded in every heart. 

The fairy tale broke down all barriers, levelled 
all inequalities of birth, gifts, or fortune : was it not 
the small, the poor, the ignoble, and the weak, to 
whom the good luck always came ? No matter how 
strong the wicked, he was never so strong as the 
powerful, capricious, impartial Goddess of Chance. 
Virtue was not the quality she sought. It would be 
[ H6 ] 



STRONG MEAT FOR THE MASSES 

dull and flat enough if prim virtue was always to 
have the best of things. Good kings and dukes were 
often overthrown and exiled. Luck's fascination was 
that any one, whether deserving or not, might put 
his hand into her bag and possibly pull out a prize. 
Ninety-nine times in a hundred you got nothing, 
but there was a chance, and it was just that one 
chance that made it possible to set one's teeth and 
go on, instead of bleakly dropping down to die 
where one stood, in the dust and the heat, or the 
mire and the cold rain. 

With the divorce of our fellow animals from our 
bed and board, the fable lost much of its charm ; 
but the fairy tale still keeps its hold upon the masses, 
and it is merely a modernized version of it which is 
fed to them by their purveyors of fiction. Books 
and schooling have done their work in the destruc- 
tion of the old tale-teller's properties of wandering 
princes, or capricious princesses. All Europe would 
not furnish sufficient scions of royalty to supply the 
needs of one weekly periodical. These have been 
forced to decline upon the lower, but more numer- 
ous, caste of nobles and millionaires. But while cas- 
tles and cottages at Newport have superseded jewel- 
set palaces, and motor-cars and aeroplanes now 
undertake the abandoned labours of the hippogriff, 
the same theme eternally survives. Lovely type- 
[ H7] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

writers and shop-girls succeed to the dramatic parts 
previously played by the swineherd's daughter ; and 
newsboys and railroad hands pose in the limelight 
of destiny that erstwhile beat upon the shepherd or 
the fisherman. 

The people, as yet, have developed small taste for 
realism in their tales, or for meticulous pictures of 
their own surroundings. " A Tale of Mean Streets " 
would never have seen the light of day had it de- 
pended for consumers within those same mean streets. 
The dwellers there are too near the facts to rejoice in 
an analysis of them, and they do not see life clearly 
enough to distinguish the values of low tones. Those 
quiet grey tints convey to their imperfect vision a 
mere uninteresting blur. Big hot splashes of red and 
blue they can recognize, but these cold shades leave 
them cold. As the savage taste demands vivid colours 
in dress and ornaments, and cannot distinguish be- 
tween cool mauves and greys, so the untrained eye 
is unable to recognize the subdued nuances of life. 
A wicked earl they know, but Sentimental Tommy 
is to them but a tiresome, unnatural fool. 

After all, why not? No one resents the fact that 
the masses prefer a piano organ raucously banging 
out "Sweet Marie," or "Tommy, make Room for 
your Uncle," to a chamber quartette following the 
suave intricacies of Mozart, or a virtuoso caressing 
[ h8 ] 



STRONG MEAT FOR THE MASSES 

from the keys a plaintive, questioning sigh of Cho- 
pin. One does not anticipate from the man in the 
street a preference for Corot over a carbon enlarge- 
ment of the photograph of Mike Casey, displaying 
to eminent advantage the weight of his watch-chain 
and the sleek swirl of his plastered butcher's curl. 
It is accepted as a matter of course. Yet the well- 
meaning intellectuals are constantly engaged in 
futile endeavour to drag the reluctant masses up to 
the level of the hundred best books; to thrust upon 
them literature which leaves them dazed and som- 
nolent with the strain of trying to understand it. 
With what relaxation and relief they turn back to 
the wicked earl and the bad baronet, who wallow in 
lurid iniquity of a good, clear black, visible to the 
dullest perception ! How they clasp to their hearts 
the snow-white heroine, nearly always of humble 
extraction, whose virtue is of fast colour, warranted 
not to crock or fade ! These are not confusing or 
baffling, with tangles of conflicting impulses of 
good and evil mingled in the crossed threads of 
human impulse. The haughty nobleman pursues 
a career of vice with the tenacity of a slot-hound: 
he hardly takes time for food or sleep. His is no 
eight-hour day: he does not dawdle over his job, 
and he dies, — as he lived — hard. On the other 
hand, the blamelessness of the virtuous never suffers 
[ H9] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

the minutest defacement under any stress; and if a 
humorous relief is introduced, the embodiment of 
it is strenuously waggish to his last appearance, and 
may be said never to draw a sober breath from start 
to finish. 

Impertinent details do not interrupt the flow of 
the story, either. If the heroine is carried off by 
pirates, without a chance to snatch up a provision 
of toothbrushes or hairpins, she is rescued after 
years of hardships and desert islands, as immacu- 
late and bien coiffee as ever. Immersions, forced 
marches through swamps and jungles, midnight 
flights, and even the famous hot breath in her hair 
leave her plumes still curled, her complexion fresh, 
and her stockings without holes. Brain fever can- 
not wither, nor persecutions stale, her supereminent 
good looks. 

The mise-en-scene in which these superior persons 
move is as clear-cut and vivid as their own moral 
qualities. Their poverty is of the direst sort. The 
snow always drifts through the chinks of their squalid 
garrets, for they are invariably overtaken with mis- 
fortune in the bitterest weather. Their luxury, on 
the other hand, is accompanied by the most per- 
sistent sunshine, and they seem to be free of all 
the anxieties incident to maintenance, death-duties, 
income-tax, or heavy fixed charges. 

[ 150 ] 



STRONG MEAT FOR THE MASSES 

The late Pierce Egan, whose volumes had a cir- 
culation surpassing the wildest dreams of the best- 
sellers, knew how to suggest the reckless luxury 
that the people love. The most popular of his sto- 
ries begins upon the terrace of "one of the proud- 
est homes in England." There — accompanied by 
peacocks — paced the heroine in haughty solitude ; 
clad in trailing crimson plush, diamonds sparkling 
in magnificent profusion upon her snow-white shoul- 
ders, and her rich golden hair flowing unconfined, 
though the hour was eight in the morning, and this 
sumptuous young woman had not yet breakfasted ! 

No higgling realism cramped the golden flood of 
his style. One looked naturally for splendour in 
one of the proudest homes in England ; and it was 
refreshing after a day at the washtub, or the loom, 
to realize that rank could clothe itself in diamonds 
and crimson plush throughout the whole twenty- 
four hours, if such was its splendid will. 

The verbal form in which these inspiring stories 
are related is always as choice and rich as the cos- 
tumes or the morals of their protagonists. Dialect 
is practically unknown, except in the mouths of the 
very lowest-born villains. Slang rarely defaces their 
pages, except such strictly genteel ejaculations as 
" s'death ! *' or " s'blood ! " Sinner and saint equally 
express their conflicting sentiments in the most 

[ >?■ ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

rounded periods, which in moments of stress soar 
to the dithyrambic. 

How full, for instance, of thrilling portent is the 
cry that "the finger of Fate is uncurled, and the 
hand of Destiny steps in to pace the marble halls ! " 
intended as a parody, but whose awful pomp and 
circumstance of phrase might easily be matched 
from any issue of "The Fireside Companion," from 
any volume of Pierce Egan, or Laura Jean Libby; 
and Marie Corelli could easily claim it as one of 
her most impassioned flights. 

The amount of this stuff poured forth is well- 
nigh incredible ; the appetite for it being apparently 
never satiated. Its purveyors are rarely known, 
even by name, to the upper literary world, though 
their compositions form the impressions of life of 
the larger half of their contemporaries, and they 
wield an influence and incur a responsibility that 
might stagger the most courageous. Not that these 
writers do stagger under their responsibility : for 
the most part they seem to pour out their creations 
with as little concern as the sweat-shops turn out 
coats and shirts, indifferent as to what they fashion, 
or who wears it, and interested only in the weekly 
wage. One hears little or nothing of these authors. 
They seem to have none of the artistic vice of self- 
consciousness ; to itch with no desire for fame ; to 
[ «52] 



STRONG MEAT FOR THE MASSES 

possess no Bohemia. One catches no rumour of their 
message to humanity, or of their motor-cars ; and 
men whose names adorn half a hundred volumes 
take themselves less seriously than poetlings respon- 
sible for a few tags of verse in the magazines. Nei- 
ther does the world at large take seriously either 
these authors or their productions. Yet it cannot 
be that this flood of reading-matter does not leave 
behind it some deposit in the minds over which it 
passes. In its favour it is to be noted that virtue is 
always triumphant ; but can it be that these fantas- 
tic misrepresentations of life do no harm ? For the 
last half century the democratization of printed 
matter has drenched the masses in a modernized, 
vulgarized fairy-lore, and it would be of value if 
scientific methods of investigation were applied to 
the study of what its influence has been. For it is 
a new influence. The fiction of the past was sparse 
and ancient, and but few, compared with the num- 
ber of readers of our day, came under its spell. This 
question tempts speculation. 

On the whole, this meat of the masses leads 
slowly, almost imperceptibly, toward higher things, 
through forming a taste for reading. The endless 
multiplication of the free library insensibly insin- 
uates a better sort of literature upon the notice 
of the masses, for the library does not, as a rule, 
[ '53 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

admit the shilling-shocker : it bars Pierce Egan and 
Mrs. E. D. E. N. Southworth, and their later con- 
freres. In default of its favourite sweets, the pro- 
letariat reluctantly nibbles at the wholesome bread 
of literature, and in some cases develops a taste 
for it. 



VIII 
THE BOOKS OF THE BOURGEOISIE 

UPON no development of the human spirit can 
one strike one's hand and say, " At this point 
it had its beginning — here it had its end/' For 
whether it rise or fall, the curves droop by such im- 
perceptible gradations to the nadir, mount so slowly 
to the zenith, that not until the extreme point is 
passed can one look back and perceive when and 
where the change in direction was begun. 

The tide of the sea, while it rises, falls back from 
the shore with each wave, though each following rip- 
ple climbs an almost immeasurable distance higher 
than its predecessor. The rising tide of general 
intelligence is almost equally slow, equally imper- 
ceptible, to the eye. 

Who can say when it is that Caliban, nosing in 
the offal for his food, first looks up to regard his 
fellows with a gleam of interest, to speculate as to 
their thoughts, to compare with his own their hopes 
and their aspirations ? How much later is it that he 
suspects the existence of a Setebos ? When does he 
commence to ponder upon that Superman to whom 
[ «55 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

he credits like passions with himself, translated to a 
larger scale — and thus begins to fashion his gods in 
his own image? 

From that first obscure turn of the tide of the 
spirit begins the lap, lap, lap of the ripples ; each 
passing upward a little more, each retreating in 
turn, but never falling back quite so far as the last ; 
forever pushed forward by blind but irresistible 
impulse that, apparently defeated in every wave, 
never relaxes its onward surge. 

While the spread of education, and the cheap- 
ening and multiplication of books, have seemed to 
produce a sudden and unprecedented rush forward, 
it is not to be supposed that the mental growth of 
man has changed the manner of its progress. There 
is still the falling back from each impulse in the 
inertia of spent effort. Still so slow is the coming 
of the flood, that only the gradual submergence of 
the rocks of error and ignorance show that per se 
muove. 

We have watched the fable and the fairy tale 
transformed into the shilling-shocker, and the wave 
seems to fall back as we see the old wholesome wild 
savouriness of the oral tale degenerate into the 
vulgar absurdities and pomposities of to-be-contin- 
ued fiction. Yet a certain advance is obvious in the 
very sophistication of the new form, which brings it 
[ 156] 



THE BOOKS OF THE BOURGEOISIE 

a little nearer to real life, a little closer into touch 
with the world as it is. The hippogrifFs and dragons, 
the witches and warlocks, acceptable to the child- 
mind of the world, are vieux jeu to the proletarian. 
He demands stage properties more assimilated to 
facts, though the plush breakfast-frock and the 
wicked Earl are close enough to realities to satisfy his 
untrained, unexacting taste. 

Let me hasten to interject at once that to set 
up the realities of life as a goal is not to insinuate 
that a bald naturalism is a higher form of art, re- 
quiring a more developed mind for its appreciation. 
'T were to reopen the endless discussion, the whole 
bloodless and indecisive combat between the Ro- 
mantics and the Realists. Far be it from me to 
recommend the Slough of Stodginess as an eligi- 
ble building-site. Let the blind, if it please them, 
deny the existence of the rainbow : it in no way 
alters the fact that the light of common day may 
be broken up into glories by refraction through 
certain intangible vapours of the atmosphere, and 
the dewy shimmerings in the soul of man are as 
much an actuality as are fried onions or a braying 
ass. 

The stark realist confuses facts with truth; is 
unable to understand that facts are merely the loose 
stones of truth, from which, 't is true, one may build 
[ '57] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

the dwelling of the spirit; but that unorganized, 
unarranged according to some preconceived ideal, 
they can afford no satisfactory shelter. 

The sheer romantic, on the other hand, never looks 
for stones for his building, for any actual or concrete 
material of any sort. He is content with castles in 
Spain ; with those draughty and unwholesome domi- 
ciles whose walls are as unsubstantial as the massive 
dungeons of an opera back-drop, which flutter in 
every current of air. His constructions make as warm 
and substantial a home for the mind as if built of 
perforated-paper valentines. 

Truth, perhaps, after all, is the sum of all the 
figures, not the figures themselves. It is the some- 
thing that shines through the realities and turns 
them to beauty; the warmth and meaning which 
glows suddenly through a commonplace landscape 
or an uninteresting life, infusing a divine sentiency 
and fairness, and revealing the true significance of 
Keats's so often misunderstood, — 

*' Beauty is truth, truth beauty, — that is all 
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know." 

But beauty and truth are revealed only by the re- 
fraction of idealism, chemically dividing the whole 
light of life into its component peacock-tints. The 
rose and the emerald, the purple and the gold, are 
always there, but needing to be bent through the 
[ '58] 



THE BOOKS OF THE BOURGEOISIE 

spectrum of the imagination before the facts give 
up their beauty and truth. 

By these slow advances, then, with continued 
relapses, does the literature of democracy climb up 
from the level of the cardboard puppet-drama of 
the masses to the books of the bourgeoisie. The bad 
baronet ceases to be quite so crassly vicious, the 
proudest homes of England are slightly less plushy, 
but a deplorably immoral peerage still ravages their 
pages with gilded sin, and satin sofas and "real lace" 
handkerchiefs are employed with a truly dazzling 
profusion. 

Old Sleuth and Gap-Toothed Bill do not pursue 
redskins and grizzlies, and foil bandits with such su- 
perhuman skill ; captains courageous may not single- 
handedly redden the seas with the accursed gore of 
Chinese pirates ; but the reader is still dragged th rough 
mechanical adventures, whose thronging multiplicity 
is as fatiguing and confusing as a three-ringed cir- 
cus. Or one is offered detective stories as woodenly 
unlike the real criminal's conflict with society as the 
street fakirs' key-wound toys are unlike the supple, 
stealthy crawl of a tiger. 

Ouida — that erstwhile darling of the bourgeoisie, 

with her dashing guardsmen and languid duchesses 

— had unpruned and inchoate, but glowing visions 

of life. Upon her conventional lay figures she loved 

[ -59] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

to drape garments of real texture. They moved 
against a theatrical background, but it was a theatre 
open to the sky and the winds. One had a sense 
that beneath the painted masks, the tin armour, she 
had unrealized imaginings of the pulse of warm blood, 
the flutter of living breath. For now and then these 
stilted phantoms would pause in their posturings and 
break through their studied phrases with some pas- 
sionate truth, with a pungent aphorism — such as 
"principles are a wooden paHsade ; temperament is 
a stone bastion." So that one started with a sudden 
sense of a possibility that these marionettes had some 
touch of life. 

*' This corpse — you would almost say 
There pined a soul in the clay ! ' ' 

Marie Corelli and Hall Caine, and their congeners, 
through all their quaint fantasies, see dimly some 
simulacrum of the real drama of existence, though 
their painting is laid on in criard daubs, lacking 
modelling and shadows, and as flat as the artless 
productions of a child's colour-box. Yet one feels 
that there stirs in them an unavailing but painstak- 
ing endeavour to see and to record the truth. Some 
sense of rejection and selection there is, some sense 
of personality and character, in all their inadequate 
attempts ; and their readers, themselves but mistily 
aware of any nuances, — moving in but two dimen- 
[ '60] 



THE BOOKS OF THE BOURGEOISIE 

sions, — find these attempts stimulating and satis- 
factory. 

A great step upward was made when the Senti- 
mentalist dawned upon the consciousness of the cen- 
tury. With that coming, the age of cold iron was 
closed. Blood and fire were wiped out by the gen- 
teel and the domestic affections. Fiction, hitherto 
ferox, was transformed to the hearthstone pet. In 
the place of the ravening pirate appeared the unos- 
tentatious bank-clerk ; and one might remain at home 
in full enjoyment of baths and toothbrushes, and yet 
be a heroine of the three traditional volumes. Brain 
fever might still be required, but one could hope 
from immunity from gunpowder and small arms. 
No more clashing of steel and slops of gore. No- 
thing more violent than a sprained ankle, a runaway 
horse, or a bad-tempered bull was employed when 
the exigencies of the plot required a bit of action. 
These were far less noisy and mussy than the old 
mechanism, and with luck an obdurate parent, and 
a really "strong heart-interest,*' might pull one 
through to "finis," and otherwise permit one to lead 
a quiet life. 

Investigation leads me to suspect that the real 
emancipation of the heroine was owed to her own 
defensive invention of the hoopskirt. She, no doubt, 
artfully divined that the boldest pirate would shrink 

[ 'fi- ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

abashed from ravishing off a young woman clothed 
in such an unmanageable device ; and how could 
the most abandoned ruffian hope to seize a young 
lady, and fling over his saddle-bow a fainting form, 
endued in such a costume? 

This connexion between the crinoline and the 
milder forms of romance has, I feel sure, not been 
heretofore guessed by the acutest critics, and I 
proudly claim for my own historic acumen the dis- 
covery that it was the harassed heroine who slipped 
over her head that wire-cage, remarking with mild 
firmness, " Let us have peace! *' 

However this may be, with the coming of the 
domestic novel, the bandit, the pirate, the Giaour, 
the magician, the highwayman, the gentleman-ad- 
venturer, and the hapless heroine — all the time- 
honoured figures of the conventional pantomime of 
romance — faded into unfashionableness, fell upon 
evil days, grew shabby and down-at-heel, and sank 
at last to doing their outworn "turns ** on the cheap 
stage of the penny-dreadfuls. A whole new world 
of mild bourgeois came forward to replace them: 
the high-minded and consumptive curate in the slums 
took the spot-light, where erst the younger son of 
a noble-but-impoverished-family of Brittany or Scot- 
land had been wont to brandish his sword and carve 
his way to the King's favour. The oppressed gov- 
[ «62] 



THE BOOKS OF THE BOURGEOISIE 

erness wrung forth the tear that once flowed for her 
betters, and the purse-proud wife of a parvenue mer- 
chant stabbed the gentle heart of the aforesaid govern- 
ess with her acrid tongue, instead of casting her into 
a dungeon, or imprisoning her in a turret-chamber. 

The chorus, too, was transformed from a crowd of 
beggars, gypsies, inn-keepers, monks, cardinals, and 
men-at-arms, to impassive butlers, tender-hearted 
housemaids, fatherly parsons, family doctors and 
solicitors, members of Parliament, and bankers. 

Scott was the last impressario who assembled all 
the old Company of Players for a grand farewell be- 
nefit performance, and even he allowed here and there 
a minor part to be assumed by some ambitious young- 
ster of the new school. Dickens owed his enormous 
popularity not only to his exuberant vitality and 
humour, but almost as much to his introduction of 
an entirely new personnel upon the scene. There are 
always links between the old and new, and Sir John 
Chester, Lady Dedlock, and others still clung to the 
methods of the old school ; but it is perhaps diffi- 
cult to realize now how surprisingly fresh and de- 
lightful must have been the effect of Dickens's char- 
acters upon the readers of his day. Even for those 
who but dimly understood his lambent gaiety and 
wit, who missed entirely the veracity of his percep- 
tion, his books had the charm of a play acted by one's 
[ 163 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

own neighbours, where the quality of the representa- 
tion is of less importance than the fact that the parts 
are assumed by Uncle John and Sister Mary. Here 
was the person in the next house, the mayor of one*s 
own town, the butcher who called every day for 
orders, even the hired man, figuring in the drama of 
existence! These took on a new significance, gath- 
ered an aura of meaning which transfigured them 
into something strange and large. Why, just think 
of it! Grandpa and Mr. Jones, the linen-draper, 
had emotions and adventures exactly as if they were 
knights or men-at-arms. There was, when you came 
to look at it, as much pathos in the woes of Mrs. 
Barton, the parson's wife, as in the afflictions of a 
countess. 

Only study and comparison can teach one fully 
to understand how complete and how surprising was 
this substitution ; how radically the axis of attention 
was shifted. 

• Henry VIII, by his centralization of power in the 
Crown, altered the type of domestic achitecture in 
England. When every noble and gentleman found 
it necessary to be prepared to defend his premises 
from possible attack by his neighbour, it was impera- 
tive to construct his dwelling about a secure inner 
court, and to render his outer walls impervious to 
missiles. By the time Elizabeth was firm upon the 
[ ,64] 



THE BOOKS OF THE BOURGEOISIE 

throne, the government was strong enough to for- 
bid local warring among the land-holders, and long 
before the succession passed to James, one side of 
this inner courtyard could be safely torn down for 
the admission of light and air, and the exterior of the 
house freely pierced with large windows. 

In like manner a political change ensued as radi- 
cal a substitution in literature. The shifting of the cen- 
tre of power to the burgess class, brought about by 
the democratic revolution, moved the focus of their 
interest to themselves. They developed the self-con- 
sciousness which a sense of power always engenders. 
They wished to know how they looked ; to see their 
own faces in the mirror of their literature. 

In the tales of the past, — and the bulk of any lit- 
erature consists of tales, — while good fortune might 
lift a lowly protagonist into the upper class, the real 
aim and purpose of his life was to resemble the 
members of that class. Nine times out often, it was 
finally demonstrated, by an old nurse's revelation of 
a hidden strawberry-mark, that he belonged to the 
aristocracy by birth, though chance for a while had 
concealed his real origin and quality. That he could 
be interesting/)^^ j^, for his mere human personality, 
never seemed to suggest itself to any one. 

Casting an eye back over the romances of the past, 
it is curious to note how completely subordinate a 
[ 165 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

role IS played by the middle and lower classes. How 
entirely those classes themselves acquiesced in their 
own lack of dramatic value is proven by how seldom 
their tales and ballads claimed attention for their own 
emotions, being almost without exception concerned 
with the doings of those above them. Once they had 
discovered themselves, they began busily to inves- 
tigate their own possibilities of romance, and the 
domestic drama and novel explored every corner of 
their souls. 

The feminist novel, and the study of the child, 
came later, and by natural gradation out of this demo- 
cratization of interest, which began to include the 
whole of the race, even to its weakest members. For 
a long period woman still remained but a mere 
adjunct of the man, and hardly realized that she 
could be considered as worthy of interest except as 
she rendered herself acceptable to him ; reaching her 
ultimate goal when she donned orange-flowers and 
was dowered with his name. 

The child, too, has come to his inheritance of in- 
dividuality late. He might claim notice as a means 
of reconciling warring parents. He might, by his art- 
less prattle, hold back the lady who was about to 
"sin," or embarrass her by inopportunely appearing 
when she had; but that he should have emotions 
and personality, and a dramatic value apart from his 
[ ^66] 



THE BOOKS OF THE BOURGEOISIE 

elders, was as surprising a discovery as that previous 
one of the picturesque possibilities of the middle 
classes. 

Broadening down from precedent to precedent, 
the proletarian has at last come into view as a natural 
concomitant of the new political creed of socialism. 
Not being as yet fully conscious of his new power, 
he has not yet seen himself as an interesting literary 
figure. He still, in the mass, prefers the tale of the 
type that was in large measure discarded by the bour- 
geois a generation ago ; but we are earnestly striving 
to teach the cult of the brawny hero, of the factory- 
bred heroine. Romance has undertaken the active 
rummage of the slum, the mine, and the foundry. 
While these still serve, for the most part, as the stage 
upon which a noble individual of the middle class 
develops his condescending interest in his fellow man, 
and his virtuous, self-sacrificing political opinions, 
yet the advance-guard are now discarding this con- 
venient ladder of the well-born reformer as a means 
of descending the pit, and boldly flinging themselves 
head-first into the deeps of humanity. 

All this striving for truth, this broadening vision 
of life, has come wave by wave; and how often be- 
tween each wave it has dropped back to the point 
of absurdity, it would not be easy to say. The whole 
body moves so slowly that it is hard to register points 
[ >67 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

of its invisible advance. Eager gifted souls run as 
far as they can up the sand — sometimes so much 
ahead of the whole mass as to lose touch with their 
fellows, and to lie caught in isolated pools until the 
rest of the tide crawls to the height of their vision 
and absorbs and assimilates their point of view. But 
always the duller, the more conventional, drag back 
the crest of the movement, and force it to renewed 
effort if it would rise. The backward pull of those 
who have a myopic eye for the meaning of life is 
tremendous. It is they who hold to the wicked Earl 
to the very last. They know and love him — why 
substitute a curate ? they ask fretfully. At last, by 
long propinquity becoming enamoured of the down- 
trodden governess, they cling to her until she has 
lost teeth and hair — (that admirable " head of 
hair") — and her pupils have become the grand- 
mothers of suffragettes. 

Even now one may see their eyes glisten with happy 
recognition of the railway that lifts the mortgage by 
running through the old farm. They have known 
and loved that railway ever since the invention of 
steam-carriages. It is as familiar and soothing to 
them as old shoes. It is for such as they that the run- 
away horse, the sprained ankle, and the hysterical 
bull are dusted and brought out to serve yet once 
more as a means of uniting young hearts. 
[ i68 ] 



THE BOOKS OF THE BOURGEOISIE 

Dear, simple folk ! — any freshness of view makes 
them uneasy. They insist upon the " happy ending," 
no matter how illogical it may be, how unUke to 
nature. The astounding saltimbanque of the wicked 
who, in the last chapter, contradict the whole tenour 
of their past by their virtuous benevolence and self- 
sacrifice, does not strain that amiable credulity. 
That two incompatible temperaments, after years 
of bitter straining upon the connubial bonds, may 
be completely assimilated through the agency of a 
few well-chosen phrases from a sick child, seems to 
them possible, and even probable. The strings of 
their hearts faithfully respond to all the old chords 
of the domestic affections : paternal tenderness, fil- 
ial love, marital devotion, home, sweet home, and 
the jingling of the sleigh-bells as the characters as- 
semble in the concluding chapter for reconciliation ; 
the Thanksgiving turkey and the pumpkin pie — 
that famous pie, so crisp and hot and spicy that not 
even the most abandoned nature can resist its bland 
and soothing influence. 

Ford, in " The Literary Shop," relates how Rob- 
ert Bonner — in his day a famous purveyor of the 
reading-matter beloved of the multitude — tested 
all manuscripts submitted to him. He imagined an 
old woman, living in some village " up York State," 
who, when her household duties were done, sat 
[ -69] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

down to her knitting and to listen to a story read 
aloud by the daughter who was hoping to enter the 
high school. If the manuscript offered contained 
nothing likely to be unacceptable to that good 
dame, Bonner accepted it; otherwise it was re- 
turned. Her supposed taste and prejudices were his 
standard, and so accurate was this test that, gov- 
erning himself by it, his publications earned him 
a fortune. 

Since Bonner's day that old lady has been gath- 
ered to her ancestors, and the high-school daughter 
reigns in her stead. It shows how the tide really 
rises when one realizes that the new reader has 
somewhat broader horizons than her revered pro- 
genitor. She is less narrowly sectarian. She has lost 
that fundamental conviction that all foreigners, all 
actors, artists, and musicians, must be necessarily 
deplorable. She is less sure than was Emerson of 
the repulsive worldliness of French coffee. She is 
still, however, inclined to become nervous and 
uncomfortable, if the relations of the sexes are 
touched upon except with euphemistic frigidity. She 
still clings to the happy ending, and declines to con- 
sider at all the darker sides of life, but — miracle 
of miracles ! — she has begun to develop a sense of 
humour. Rather a vague and rudimentary sense, 
certainly, but she can discern a little the play of 
[ '7°] 



THE BOOKS OF THE BOURGEOISIE 

character, the flavour of the contrasts of existence. 
She likes fun — of a somewhat banal and obvious 
sort, perhaps ; but her dear late Mama had never 
considered fun of any sort a desirable element of 
the earnest Christian life. Merriment so quickly- 
degenerated into flippancy, and flippancy, as every 
one knew, was the first step in the facile descent to 
Avernus — to the abysses of the stage, popery, and 
infidelity. 

The multiplication of libraries, the ever-swelling 
flood of books, the local club, travel, and the lec- 
ture-hall have gradually altered and enlarged the 
horizon of life to the man of middle class. Already 
the tale has ceased to be his one avenue of ap- 
proach to a different environment. He begins slowly 
to find pleasure in something besides the imaginary 
adventures of other men. Books of travel interest 
him ; the cheerful essay serves to provide that "seri- 
ous reading" once confined to stray volumes of 
sermons. Biographies of national heroes, popular 
histories, and selections from the World's Best Lit- 
erature aid him to envisage his surroundings. Some 
volume upon sociology or politics now and then 
attracts him, and a popularized version of scientific 
discoveries occasionally appeals to his taste. 

This is the limit of the progress of the petite 
bourgeoisie ; the haute bourgeoisie rises out of it by 
[ >7> ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

imperceptible gradations, and adv^ances a long step 
further in its more highly developed members. In 
America, at least, these more aspiring minds are 
largely of the leisure sex, and are inclined to a some- 
what ambitious preciosity. These are they who used 
to found Browning Clubs, and have now passed on 
beyond the Victorian poet to the corporate study 
of Ibsen and Bernard Shaw. It is they who support 
the problem play, and devour large editions of the 
problem novel, and accept with portentous serious- 
ness the naughty daring of the emancipated lady- 
novelist. For the classics of the past they have but 
little time or appetite, but the latest fad only suc- 
ceeds in marching abreast of them. In the language 
of Chicago, they " make culture hum," and skim 
the whole field of learning with the light-hearted 
caprice and insouciance of a butterfly. They are the 
major part of the audience reached by the six best- 
sellers, and the fluctuation of literary value in those 
sellers is a gauge of the lack of sureness in their 
taste. But the range of their explorations is a proof 
of the widening of their horizon ; and not only does 
their catholicity of interest make for exploration 
in new fields, but they have developed by their 
attention the collection of the endless delightful 
vignettes of the short story — delicate miniature 
studies of provincial character ; thumb-nail sketches 
[ 172 ] 



THE BOOKS OF THE BOURGEOISIE 

of life, which will serve eventually as studies for 
larger pictures of life. 

Thus, despite all reflex drag of the backward drop- 
ping waves, the tide slowly but inevitably climbs the 
shore. 



IX 

THE TORCH-BEARERS 

IT is unfortunate for Americans and for their lit- 
erature that so large a proportion of the Amer- 
ican men — even among the best and most gifted of 
them — still consider letters and the arts as scarcely- 
more than a woman's toy; matters unworthy any 
serious interest or consideration. To this attitude 
we owe it that our literature is, as a whole, thin and 
seccant, and, as a whole, suffers from what Henry 
James has bitterly characterized as its "damnable 
feminization." And by reaction the race itself, as 
a whole, lacks the enriching that a full-blooded, 
amply received body of letters ensures. 

That this "Ploughman's Ideal" — the ideal that 
a man should sow and reap and labour with mate- 
rial things,, leaving music and books, pictures and 
conversation, and such-like "truck," to women, who 
have nothing better to think of — should have so 
deep and general a hold is no doubt natural enough. 
Given a farm of more than two million square miles 
to clear and cultivate and manage, there was little 
time at first for aught save labour and administra- 
[ ^74] 



THE TORCH-BEARERS 

tlon. A few homely posies in the front door-yard, a 
Bible and almanac on the centre-table in the parlour, 
and Sunday-night hymns around the melodeon suf- 
ficed for all spiritual needs of beauty and grace, and 
prevented the women from fretting. Even now, de- 
spite the great museums in every large city, the libra- 
ries in every town and village, the opera companies 
and symphony societies, and frequent exhibitions of 
pictures, eight out of ten American men still con- 
sider the arts and letters as diversions for women, or 
for the idle and inefficient of their own sex. They 
still consider literature unworthy the serious respect 
and attention of any active practical man, and a 
leaning toward the study of it likely to be a hin- 
drance to success in life. The millionaires, when the 
real work of their career is done, sometimes indulge 
in a large and condescending patronage of the arts; 
but this patronage is for the most part a mere 
adjunct of yachting, racing, building, and philan- 
thropy; serving, like the accumulation of jewels for 
their women, as another means of displaying splen- 
didly the eminence of their financial success. 

That literature should be a serious affair, one of 
the keys to the complex puzzle of human life, would 
seem to most of them the sort of fantastic miscon- 
ception of values one would exJDect to find in the 
heads of long-haired men and short-haired women, 
[ >75] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

with no adequate comprehension of actualities. These 
men — some of them with the most astonishing gifts 
and capacities, too — sit like the traditional tapestry- 
weavers, on the wrong side of the web of life, knot- 
ting threads of every colour through the meshes of 
their days, hardly speculating at all upon the nature 
of the great pictures they are making. And they 
die at last without once having had the joy of see- 
ing their own creations. Die without understanding 
— perhaps without even guessing — the existence 
of the glorious patterns that have been wrought by 
their toiling fingers. That it is art, and literature 
more than all the other arts, which reflects the right 
side of their great web and displays to them the true 
nature and progress of their work, would no doubt 
be a new idea to most of them. It would be a new 
idea to them, that art's real mission is to lighten 
and sweeten labour by showing the labourer the real 
value and meaning of his toil. 

Put into words, its message says to the weavers : — 

" Look what came of all those dull brown and green 
threads you drew and knotted day by day, week after week ! 
You thought it but humble, dreary drudgery, and behold, 
regarded from this side, you shall find that you have created 
this fertile, sunlit champaign embosomed in trees ; this 

* Good, gigantic smile of the brown old earth.* 
[ «76] 



THE TORCH-BEARERS 

" See here, upon this side, the little villages crouching 
in the verdure like children playing hide and seek. Beyond 
them, in the sun, are the corn-fields where the print of the 
w^ind's feet shines grey and green as it runs across the wheat. 
Behind these woods and fields look how the river rounds 
a clasping arm, and turns the dripping mill-wheels; and 
through the land see the winding road : it is the road that 
leads from Yesterday to To-morrow. 

" That horizon of misty hills, bound about the plain like 
a violet girdle ? Oh, that was what came of the skeins that 
tangled so vexatiously, every thread uneven and full of kinks, 
and which seemed not to match anything you 'd used before. 

"See the King's robe, as he rides. The damascened 
splendour of it was wrought from those confusing tints, 
no two alike ; appearing from your side, as you worked, as 
a jumble of mad foolishry. 

" You remember when you tied in those soft subtle hues, 
that seemed pale and flat as you handled them ? Well, 
behold what you were really doing ! It is Our Lady of Love 
herself floating in her shell upon the sea at dawn. 

" Don't you realize now that it was life you were mak- 
ing? Pictures of power and beauty and love ; and the homes 
of men, and the hills of dream ; pictures of earth's fatness, 
and of the end and the beginning. If I had not showed 
you the other side of your web, you would have died with- 
out ever having guessed that the weaving and knotting 
and tying was anything more than weaving and knotting and 
tying, or that on the side you never saw you were creating 
something very like your lost and yearned-for paradise." 
[ '77] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

And if the average sensible American man ever 
reads this, — which he is not in the least likely to 
do, — his scornful comment will certainly be, " Oh, 
bosh!" Then he will take off his collar, and care- 
fully laying his cuffs with their patent fasteners aside, 
he will roll up his sleeves and go on with his work, 
his wonderful creative work. Shaping new worlds 
from the wilderness; modelling fresh civilizations; 
carving wonders from sheer impalpable brain-stuff; 
playing with rivers and winds and seas as a child 
does with toys, and thinking of it all in terms of 
dollars and cents, and having not a glimmer of the 
joys of the demiurge. He will deny himself the 
satisfaction of seeing the beauty and meaning of his 
labour. For it is art only that could show it him ; 
that Claude Lorraine glass which gathers up the land- 
scape into a picture, and illuminates it with magic 
iridescence. 

The weariness and strain of this "unintelligible 
world *' is just that it is unintelligible. It is just that 
most of us can see our efforts only as a tying of hap- 
hazard threads, with no particular reason for tying 
them, or for using those particular threads at all, 
rather than others, except that they lie nearest, or 
are forced into one's unwilling fingers by a perverse 
fate. Could one see the pictures growing, one would 
be encouraged to go on with the drabs and greys, or 
[ >78 ]■ 



THE TORCH-BEARERS 

even the black, knowing how necessary these shad- 
ows were to bring out the modelling and the high 
lights; how beautifully the perspectives melt and 
fuse in these long expanses of low tones. This truth 
makes itself visible in watching an artist lay on 
washes of colour; mere unmeaning splashes they 
seem, until a touch here and there throws them into 
the proper relation, and then his conception in its 
full beauty jumps to the eye with a breath-taking 
surprise and pleasure. 

This is what literature is forever attempting to do 
for us : endeavouring to link the more disconnected 
manifestations of life into a picture; trying to let us 
into the secret purpose and meaningof it. Know thy- 
self, it urges. Know life ; know it by knowing others. 
Study the play and interplay of temperament; the 
real values, the need and purpose of the shadows 
and the vivid tints, and knowing these, see the im- 
posing and beautiful picture it all makes. See what 
thrilling moments are really yours, even in what are 
seemingly the dullest moments of putting in the 
background to bring out the drama and move- 
ment of the figures; without which background 
those figures would hang in an unmeaning void. 

How many false steps and starts we have made; 
how much helpless wandering in circles we have done ; 
what heroic endeavours in pursuit of the ever-escap- 

[ -79] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

ing tail of truth we have undertaken, since Caliban 
first began to be conscious of himself, to study his fel- 
lows, and to reflect upon the circumambient powers 
which he personalized as Setebos. Moving about, 
as we do, in worlds and among souls unrealized, each 
effort of literature — of all the arts — is to help us 
to guess at the nature of these worlds and souls. To 
express them in language. To learn the shape, and 
colour, and sound, and size of the whole of existence. 
To map out some small space so that we may get 
its orientation ; may walk about in it confidently and 
learn its landmarks. Here is solid footing, it reports. 
There is quaking mire. In this direction beware of 
bottomless quicksand. At this point it is necessary 
to breast the hill and walk guardedly by precipices. 
Here are fair meadows; and around this corner — 
though you'd never guess it lay hidden behind these 
thorny brakes — lies a hortus inclusuSy the very gar- 
den of souls, garlanded with roses and sweet with 
living fountains. 

Literature is the geography and the guide-book 
of humanity. It is a study of its geology; its winds 
and tides ; its flora and fauna ; its mountain-ranges 
and great streams ; its configurations and climates. 
Daring cartographists return from its remote regions 
bringing strange tales and troves of their lonely 
wanderings, or with soundings of uncharted seas. 
[ '8°] 



THE TORCH-BEARERS 

Others are content lovingly to study their home 
shire, carefully cataloguing its familiar paths, its 
soils and trees and flowers, its birds and insects. 

A few try to guess at life's history ; to search out 
the inter-relations of the great sleepless currents and 
the ever-pouring winds that sweep blowing and flow- 
ing about this world of man's cognition. These are 
the torch-bearers, who go before, lighting the way, 
showing whither we must move, pointing out the 
tremendous drifts of spiritual tides that drive us 
onward whether we will or no. 

We are all naturally valley-dwellers; villagers 
concerned with our little immediate affairs; letting 
our own hands, held so near to our eyes, blot out 
the whole landscape. 

We do not follow these torch-bearers willingly. 
They must take us by the scruff of the neck and 
drag us, protesting, up the heights from which we 
are to get a broader view. We nearly always kick 
them in the shins, hke naughty small boys, while 
they are about this task of enlightening our dark- 
ness. Why, we ask indignantly, should we leave our 
warm, comfortable little paysage^ whose horizons 
we know so well, whose paths had been made clear 
by the tread of so many feet ? And all for the silly 
purpose of striving up to unaccustomed heights, 
where very likely we shall not be able to breathe 
[ >8. ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

comfortably in the bleak, thin air. What good is it to 
make ourselves giddy just for new points of view? 
This outlook was sufficient for our fathers, and will 
easily suffice for us. Of course our fathers did come 
up ■ — came up blind and featureless from the deep ; 
slowly grew amphibious, and by infinitely slow steps 
climbed to where we stand. Still, now that we are 
here, why go higher ? This is a good place ; what is 
the need of more progress ? But, despite our pro- 
tests, the torch-bearer calls for " light, more light ! " 
for more complete vision, urging us to come up 
higher with him, and we again, grown somewhat 
ashamed, begin with one accord to make excuses. 
We begin to say, "I have bought a yoke of oxen, 
and a piece of ground, and must needs go and see 
them " ; or, " I have married a wife, I pray thee 
have me excused." And if he declines our polite 
apologies, we try what a few well-directed missiles 
will avail to check his fatiguing ardour. 

It is only just to admit that he is never wholly 
discouraged by our well-meant endeavours to make 
him see reason. . . . 

Follows an exposition of his point of view ; seeing 
which point of view, one realizes that explaining 
to him that he is a conceited ass, while it may 
depress his spirit at times, cannot induce him to 
abandon his task. 

[ 182 ] 



THE TORCH-BEARERS 

" His notion of his function is ambitious, and coincides 
roughly with what Schopenhauer has laid down as the pro- 
vince of the metaphysician. He is to gather together for 
men, and set in order, the materials of their existence. 
He is ' The Answerer ' ; he is to find some way of speak- 
ing about life that shall satisfy, if only for a moment, 
man's enduring astonishment at his own position. And 
besides having an answer ready, it is he who shall provoke 
the question. He must shake people out of their indiffer- 
ence, and force them to make some selection in the world, 
instead of sliding dully forward in a dream. . . . And it 
is only on rare provocation that we can rise to take an 
outlook beyond daily concerns, and comprehend the nar- 
row limits and great possibilities of our existence. It is his 
duty to induce such moments of clear sight. He is the 
declared enemy of all living by reflex action, of all that is 
done between sleeping and waking, of all the pleasureless 
pleasurings and imaginary duties in which we coin away 
our hearts and fritter invaluable years. He has to electrify 
his readers into an instant unflagging activity, founded on 
a wide and eager observation of the world, and make them 
direct their ways by a wise and superior prudence . . . 
for they all slumber in the midst of God's beautiful and 
wonderful universe." 

It is plain to be seen that there will never be 
many of these persons ; that the supply of torches 
is not likely to be exhausted by the demand of 
those able and willing to bear them. Indeed, it is 

[ -83 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

computed by those curious in thestudy of our pro- 
gress in the past, that the entire story of human 
achievement can be grouped about something less 
than five hundred names. So few lights, and so wide 
a darkness to be illumined ! 

It has long been my conviction that most of the 
sorrow and evil of our lives, all that lurid turmoil 
of wretchedness that we make and always have made 
for ourselves and each other, has its origin not in 
wilful wickedness but in well-intentioned ignorance. 
We rarely intend to cause suffering. We do not 
wish to suffer ourselves. We really seek peace, and 
ensue it, but like Ibn HakkuFs onion-eaters, we 
"see nothing as what it is." Consider, for example, 
the Inquisition, which has come to serve as the 
major demonstration of human cruelty and wrong- 
headedness. Nothing can be more certain than that 
neither Torquemada nor his successors believed that 
they were acting like the demons they appear to us. 
Given a conviction that one*s fellow man had a soul 
sure to be damned if he failed to perform certain 
genuflexions, to accept certain formulas ; add a 
certainty that the damned soul suffered incredible 
tortures for all eternity, and that it might be rescued 
by strenuous measures ; and is not the institution 
of the Holy Office inevitable ? Would not any 
really noble and philanthropic creature put himself 
[ 184 ] 



THE TORCH-BEARERS 

to endless inconvenience to gather all such recalci- 
trants and 

<* Have them all bound 
And tenderly drowned," 

or roasted, or racked ? If not cut away, they were 
likely to infect the whole of humanity. What mat- 
tered the death of one, of twenty men, if thereby 
the rest were saved ? 

One has only respect and enthusiasm for the 
surgeon who cuts away a gangrened limb to save 
a life. The calm cheerfulness with which he per- 
forms his dreadful task looks to us like beautiful 
benevolence and heroism. Why, then, should one 
suppose that the instigator of an auto-da-fe did not 
go home to a hearty supper, and peaceful slumber, 
sustained by a pleased sense that 

*' Something attempted, something done. 
Had earned a night's repose *' ? 

He was convinced that he had performed an 
equally necessary operation upon the body of so- 
ciety. 

That torch-bearer, Monsieur Arouet Voltaire, 
lugged us up — we kicking manfully at his shins all 
the while — to a higher point, where we saw, with 
considerable mortification, that these fine endeav- 
ours of ours were not only unkind but inefficient. 
[ -85 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

Once we got this point of view, we abandoned the 
efforts, and had the grace to blush. 

An amiable and worthy physician once described 
to me a visit made to the office of an equally ami- 
able and worthy confrere. His attention being at- 
tracted by certain queer, husky little plainings, he 
discovered that these were made by two frogs tacked 
to a board. Upon inquiry, he learned that they had 
been in this plight for several days. Now the phy- 
sician who had crucified those unhappy creatures 
was inspired by a high-minded desire to discover 
certain facts which he thought might be useful to 
man. It is possible that eventually some one with 
flaming words may light this dark space in our 
minds, and make us feel that shrieking dogs, muti- 
lated cats, dismembered rabbits, and poisoned horses 
are not really necessary for our comfort and well- 
being, and then we will be under the painful neces- 
sity of blushing again. When that time arrives, as 
the Texan said, attempting to console the widow of 
a man lynched by mistake for the real culprit, — 
"The joke is on us." And future generations, see- 
ing further than we do, may misjudge us as harshly 
as we misjudge the mediaeval inquisitors. 

This is the task these forerunners are always 
engaged in, — sorting, arranging, matching colours 
in our chaos. Forcing us to recognize the mean- 

[ '86 ] 



THE TORCH-BEARERS 

ing and relations of the wildly confusing bits of our 
puzzle-picture. The task is so large a one that nat- 
urally it gets itself done only bit by bit ; but every 
time a few pieces are put together we gain a clearer 
view of the relation of each fragment to the whole 
tableau, and are able to deal more comfortably and 
adequately with ourselves and our fellows. Each 
step of knowledge gained persuades us to abandon 
some unpretty, unamiable habit. We cease drown- 
ing witches, hanging thieves, capturing slaves, beat- 
ing children, manacling the insane, grinding the 
faces of the helpless, being content with filthy con- 
ditions for ourselves and our employees. All of 
which we did in perfect good-nature and high-mind- 
edness until the error and undesirableness of it was 
pointed out to us by persons with the gift of tongues. 
For it requires a Pentecostal heat to melt our cold, 
solidified ignorance to the point where it can flow 
into fresh moulds. Reason has not sufficient tem- 
perature for the work. Passion is necessary to fuse 
our crystallized indifference. The Answerer of our 
Sphinx riddles must speak in high and moving 
phrases; must "sweetly and nimbly recommend'* 
his unpalatable assertions. Must, in short, turn his 
meaning into literature before he can make himself 
heard. 

How persistently, in each generation, we resist 

[ '87] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

and resent enlightenment! Socrates was put to 
death. Sophocles was forced into a long exile. Eu- 
ripides was banished. Pythagoras spent a consid- 
erable portion of his hundred years in discreetly 
vanishing from localities become too hot to hold 
him, Plato and Aristotle had their full share of dis- 
comforts. Yet when their torches, buried for a thou- 
sand years, were at last disinterred, it was found 
that even in their ashes lived their wonted fires, and 
by the light of them Europe went more surely on 
its way. Greece became once again a pharos to illu- 
mine the night of the world. 

Not alone do the great torches irradiate, but a 
thousand little lantern-bearers go to and fro recon- 
noitring the dark corners, and casting a mild radi- 
ance into the obscurest and humblest dwellings of 
the mind ; emitting gleams by which we discern the 
faces of our companions as really kind and mild, 
where before loomed shadowy, menacing figures 
that filled our wayfaring hearts with the tremors of 
evil potentialities. These lantern-bearers guide our 
feet along our narrow paths, so that we may hap- 
pily forbear to jostle rudely our fellow travellers. 
They shine upon the obscurities of sex and age, 
and racial prejudices. Teach men and women, adults 
and children, millionaire and pauper, white and 
black, beast and human, to see that the hearts of 
[ 188 3 



THE TORCH-BEARERS 

all — or very nearly all — are really full of good 
intentions and virtuous desires. 

This is what the tales, and the verses, and the 
dramas, and the pictures, and the music, too, are 
forever saying : "Art is the Reconciler of Hearts." 
Showing us one another in pain and sorrow, in 
joy and triumph, — as we love, and live, and 
die. Showing us not as we show ourselves to one 
another, but as we really are. For most of us have 
not the gift of expression, and when we attempt to 
make others understand what is really in our hearts, 
either our voices seem to die away in thin air and 
never reach their ears at all, or we stridently speak 
an inimical gibberish foreign to their understand- 
ings. So that we stand abashed and awkward, or fall 
into angry impatience, at their seemingly wilful stu- 
pidity. Then art, the Interpreter, who knows all 
tongues, comes between us and tries to explain that 
these loud voices and abrupt gestures were in fact 
an offer of bread and not a menace of stones. 

It is, then, plainly unsafe and unwise for any 
class or individual to decline, as unimportant and 
unnecessary, the aid of these light-bearers in trav- 
elling amid the shards and pitfalls that bestrew the 
shadowy path we all must tread. 



THE LITTLE MEMBER 

** Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things.** 

AN enlightening human experience is to watch 
JljL one who, with pen or pencil, endeavours to 
transfer to paper or canvas the likeness of a given 
object. Almost no oneelsewill draw the object as one 
sees it one's self. The first inclination is to attribute 
this variation of vision to that equation of personal- 
ity upon which the artists so much insist ; defining 
art itself as "life seen through a temperament." It 
seems a satisfactory solution of the difficulty to credit 
this variation wholly to deflexion through the angles 
of individuality ; those angles which the psycholo- 
gists are now so busy analyzing in laboratories in 
their search for the data required in postulating new 
interpretations of life. Doubt, however, is cast upon 
this too sweepingly complete resolution of the diffi- 
culty when an attempt is made to obtain a copy of 
some specific thing. Here stands the concrete object, 
needing no translation through a temperament ; need- 
ing nothing more than mere exactitude of reproduc- 
[ >9o] 



THE LITTLE MEMBER 

tion. Yet experience will show that this accuracy- 
is well-nigh unattainable, even at the hands of those 
trained to reproduce. It is amazing to find that nine 
out often persons are almost incapable of seeing any 
object as it really is, even when they may handle and 
measure it; and that they become annoyed and con- 
fused when it is pointed out that they have omitted 
ornament where it exists, or added it where absent, 
and ignored demonstrations of the tape-line. 

This incapacity for truthful seeing, so surprising 
in concrete matters, becomes, when applied to ques- 
tions less tangible, so well-nigh universal as to pro- 
duce in the observer a peristaltic mental disturbance, 
resembling the helpless discomfort set up in the 
interior of a landsman by the violently sudden 
shifting of the centres of gravity on a plunging ship. 
Where, then, one asks one's self, must we look for 
truth ? Can we rely upon any assertion outside of the 
realm of pure mathematics ? Talk of worlds unreal- 
ized! . . . Ifothersseeso vaguely, so inadequately, 
can we be sure of the truth of any report, any his- 
tory? Can one trust one*s own impressions? 

Even this assertion as to common inaccuracy may 
in its turn be questioned. Yet the records of the 
psychological laboratories confirm it. Some recent 
experiments bear interestingly on this very point. 

The inner wall of a certain loggia leading to the 

[ -g- ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

class-room of an investigator was pierced by a win- 
dow. Suddenly questioned as to the appearance of 
this opening, the greater number of the class, passing 
the window every day for months, denied its exist- 
ence. They had never observed it, and were quite 
confident that it did not exist. But two of the class 
had noticed it, and only one could describe it with 
any approach to exactitude. 

A more elaborate experiment produced even 
stranger results. An attendant dressed in a fantastic 
costume was, without warning, introduced into the 
class-room. He had been instructed to perform cer- 
tain antics, to repeat some absurd phrases, and to re- 
tire at an agreed signal, after sufficient time had been 
given to permit every one to examine him clearly. 
Not only did not one of the class — instructed to 
record the whole episode immediately in writing — 
succeed in accurately describing the costume, the 
gestures, or the words of the unexpected visitor, or 
the length of his stay in the room, but several of 
the reports, set down in entire seriousness and good 
faith, were astoundingly inaccurate in almost every 
particular. The writers carefully and elaborately de- 
scribed things that had not happened, and remained 
to the end convinced that they had seen things that 
had no existence except in their imagination, in spite 
of assurances to the contrary. 
[ -9^ ] 



THE LITTLE MEMBER 

Hie sunt leones! Where are we to put down our 
feet, if the ground is so quakingly uncertain? Whose 
word is to be taken on trust? 

Documents — is the answer of the Stubbs school 
of historians. Documents, indeed ! Were not those 
records of the class in psychology documents ? And 
why should the written word be more accurate than 
the spoken one? It is simply an impression com- 
mitted to paper. 

It is within my own knowledge that in a recent 
cause cH^bre, which divided the whole country into 
two camps, the one witness who knew the facts told 
nothing but the truth — but not all of it. Had he 
unbosomed himself of the complete story, the ver- 
dict had been reversed, and the public convulsed 
with scandalized amazement. 

The documents of the trial will doubtless be 
consulted by future historians, and if they be of 
the Stubbs school, they will be satisfied that their 
dusty labours have put them in possession of the 
facts ; but lacking all the facts, they will make false 
history. Some rumour of the truth may reach them, 
but they will scornfully reject it as mere gossip, 
unconfirmed by the trustworthy documents. 

What is the truth of history ? Does any one know ? 
This episode shows how little documents may be 
relied upon. 

[ -93] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

Was Lucrezia Borgia the malignant fiend of pop- 
ular belief? or the helpless pawn of a wicked Pope 
and his son, escaping eventually to the dignity and 
peace of life with the d'Estes to develop her natural 
purity and sweetness ? — as later research seems to 
make probable. 

Was Henry VIII a mere selfish tyrant ? or the 
far-seeing benefactor of his country ? 

Did Anne Boleyn deserve her piteous death upon 
the scaffold? or was she a helpless innocent de- 
voured by a lecherous minotaur ? 

Did Mary Stuart murder Darnley and intrigue 
with Bothwell ? or was she a pathetic beauty, used 
as a shuttlecock to be batted to and fro by unscru- 
pulous Scotchmen? 

Who knows ? Here are figures set up for the his- 
torian to depict, and no two can draw them alike. 
Not only can we not accept without question state- 
ments about the past, but one constantly has one's 
opinions about contemporary individuals and peo- 
ples — opinions formed from hearsay — altered by 
personal observation and experience. 

Americans are told, and most of them accept it 
without question, that the English are haughty and 
selfish fellow travellers, and little inclined in their 
own land to be hospitable to strangers. Many will 
give chapter and verse of their own adventures in 
[ ^94] 



THE LITTLE MEMBER 

confirmation. But the experience of one American, 
extending over many years, is that the most friendly 
and approachable of all fellow voyagers is invariably 
a native of " that one small isle set in a silver sea," 
and that they overflow in their own land with the 
most ready and ungrudging hospitality. 

Whose authority is one to accept — one's own 
experience or the opinion of others ? 

It has passed into a sort of axiom that the Irish 
are witty. One person who has had intimate inter- 
course with hundreds of Irish people of both sexes, 
has never heard a Celt say anything intentionally 
humorous. The older generation, not ground into 
deadly similarity by the Board Schools, have often 
a rich savour of speech arising from their quaint 
choice of words from a language not their mother- 
tongue. Though they may speak nothing but Eng- 
lish, yet English is not the native expression of the 
genius of the Irish race. They think in Erse or 
Gaelic forms by the very quality and fibre of their 
brains, though they may be able to express those 
forms of thought only in English. Analyzed, I 
think it will be seen that what seems wit is merely 
their unexpectedness in the choice and arrangement 
of words. Their intention is not humorous. The 
same tang of surprise, and a sort of wild savouriness 
of speech, is characteristic of the uneducated Ameri- 
[ "95 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

can negro, who, like the Irish, speaks a language 
essentially foreign, though he has no other. Like 
the Irish, the negro is often boisterously gay, but 
almost never witty by instinct or intention. 

Who is it who imposes these traditions ? For tra- 
dition on any matter has upon all, except the most 
determinedly open, minds an effect fairly hypnotic. 
Being told to consider himself a pig, the subject 
under the spell of the word finds in himself all the 
essential elements of pork. 

The creed of the Higher Pragmatist is an effort 
to break down this spell. We have been told, it is 
in effect their attitude, that we can do certain things, 
and that certain things we cannot do. Let us try 
whether this be true. Perhaps, says Pragmatism, the 
conviction that some efforts are beyond our powers 
is the only barrier which stands between us and their 
accomplishment. A curious confirmation of their 
suspicion of unsuspected human potentiaHties is 
the fact, known to every swimmer, that so long as 
we absolutely believe that the water will bear us up, 
it does bear us up. The moment either fatigue or 
nervousness undermines this conviction, one sinks 
like lead. 

Long before Pragmatism had arrived at an age to 
be christened, its startling tenets were adumbrated 
by the great, but anonymous, author of a Limerick. 
[ ^96] 



THE LITTLE MEMBER 

A Limerick which in stately measures set forth the 
most daring effort of the human will. 

*« There once was a girl who said, « Why 

Can't I look in my ear with my eye ? 

I 'm sure I could do it 

If I put my mdnd to it. 

For you never can know till you try.' " 

Some physiologists assert that animals can have 
no ideas because they have no brain-centres of lan- 
guage. One is inclined to infer, from all the available 
human data, that most men have ideas only because 
some men have the language to impose notions upon 
their fellows. Probably at least half of us know things, 
not because of information from our own perceptions, 
but because we have received the information — 
without question — from the words of others. 

" In the beginning was the Word . . . and with- 
out it was not anything made that was made." 

From this it has ensued that words have taken on 
an element of being — have ceased to exist as mere 
phrases for the conveyance of opinion, and developed 
an innate puissance. The idols of wood and stone, 
to which the heathen in his lamentable blindness 
bows down, have known a similar transformation. 
Originally created only as tangible expressions of 
a conception of daemonic force, they have set up in 
business on their own account. Have deflected to 
[ »97 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

themselves the awe and reverence of their worship- 
pers, who cease to see them as symbols of elemen- 
tary powers, but rather as objects in themselves to 
be feared and loved. The shadow of the God grows 
to be itself a deity; assumes potence, and begins to 
create man in its own image. This metagenesis of a 
word, from a halting attempt to express an inade- 
quately realized thought into a fetish for superstitious 
worship, is common enough. Take, as an example, 
the word Republican. Originating as a title for a 
more or less popular form of government, it drew to 
itself sacred implications that made almost any crime 
committed in its name look like a virtue. The ship- 
money that brought Charles Stuart's head to the 
block was cheerfully paid in double portion to Crom- 
well, the Republican — a far more rigid tyrant than 
Charles ever dared to be, and more high-handed 
with parliaments. The lettres de cachet of all the 
French Louis were fewer in number than the arrests 
of one week of the Revolutionary tribunals; yet the 
people of France have less resentment of that Sat- 
urnalia of despotism of the mob than of the isolated 
oppressions of their kings. The Bastille is execrated; 
the Conciergerie excused. Yet the entire existence 
of the former saw less suffering, less innocent blood 
shed, than three months of the latter. The Revolu- 
tion confiscated more property, cut off more heads, 
[ ^98] 



THE LITTLE MEMBER 

and wielded a more irresponsible power, than all the 
monarchs of France put together; yet the former 
has twenty defenders and apologists where the kings 
have one. Had any sovereign dared to enact the 
"hundred-dollar clause" of the American customs, 
and maintained secret-service spies to worm their 
way into the confidence of unwary passengers upon 
incoming ships, his throne would have toppled in a 
week. Had any European monarch bluntly informed 
his parliament that it had passed a law in the interest 
of criminals, and to protect its own members from 
detection, the mob had stormed his palace within 
twenty-four hours. But a people having contented 
themselves with naming their government a repub- 
lic will find almost any action of their rulers toler- 
able. The word is an amulet to protect them from 
tyranny. Take care of the name and the facts will 
take care of themselves. 

Every politician learns early in his career the 
hypnotic value of the word. Let his mouth be suffi- 
ciently full of fine phrases, and his writings breathe 
noble sentiments, and he may follow his own inter- 
ests without fear. He knows that to the man in the 
street words are concrete things, not mere symbols 
that may or may not represent substance. 

" I know he is good, because he says so himself," 
really expresses the effect of words upon the average 
[ »99] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

mind. Gladstone astutely grasped this tendency of 
the crowd, and for half a century dominated the ma- 
jority of his countrymen. Swayed by the wizardry 
of his tongue, they saw the shield as either silver or 
gold, as he directed. When that magic member was 
stilled, his followers glared about them in a wild sur- 
mise, slowly realizing that his golden eloquence had 
turned to the withered leaves of fairy coin, and that 
the great figure which had loomed so large and be- 
neficent to their mesmerized senses had shrunk to 
the stature of a selfish opportunist. American polit- 
ical life could show similar examples of the wielder 
of the hypnotic word persuading the mob to believe 
him good and great because he himself assures them 
of the fact. 

It is, by the way, a pleasing proof that the worst 
of us love and labour after virtue, when one notes 
that no man could carry the crowd with him who 
did not lift a flag of lofty moral sentiment. One 
might almost say of solemn moral sentiment, since 
the masses always prefer their verbal virtue of a 
good solid doughy consistency — the unleavened 
bread of edification, not frivolized by the yeast of 
humour. The glancing gaiety of wit disturbs their 
pious confidence. They do not feel that they can 
safely trust their destinies to one who is restive 
under platitudes. No humorous statesman has ever 
[ 200 ] 



THE LITTLE MEMBER 

been the idol of the people. Perhaps he has too 
vivid a sense of proportion to be vain; too keen a 
sense of realities to take himself with the ponderous 
seriousness proper to a popular idol. 

What a petty creature Cato appears in the inti- 
mate letters of his contemporaries, yet his self-right- 
eous attitudinizing still dominates the imagination 
of posterity through the spell of fine phrases. 

Brutus, for two thousand years, made assassina- 
tion a virtue by the simple device of calling it tyran- 
nicide, and of making an eminently quotable speech 
about despots as he stabbed his kindest friend in a 
fury of ignoble jealousy. Sic semper tyrannis nerved 
the hand of Wilkes Booth, and of hundreds of 
equally unhappy but well-meaning creatures before 
him and since. Poor wretches, who without that high- 
sounding sentence to inspire them would doubtless 
have shrunk from the extreme of murder ! 

What a welter of futile intrigue and violence was 
that vaunted liberty of the Florentine republic, which 
the Medicis are credited with having strangled to 
feed their own lust of luxury and power. Yet Lo- 
renzo steered the City of the LiHes safely through a 
period of almost unexampled difficulty, and left taxes 
lower, and the price of government securities higher, 
at his death than when he caught the reins of power 
from the warring hands of the reckless oligarchy who 

[zo. ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

spouted eternally of republican liberty. He too went 
forever in fear of the shadow of the prating Brutus 
— particularly fashionable as exemplar to the classic- 
drunk Renaissance. 

Savonarola, Lorenzo^s enemy, was an eminent 
lover of tumid words and of rotund professions of 
virtue, yet he too in his turn found the temptations 
and difficulties of power as great as every other popu- 
lar idol has done. It is a curious light on Lorenzo's 
character that he accorded Savonarola complete lib- 
erty, though the Medici influence with the Papacy 
would have made exile or silencing a mere matter 
of a word. Indeed, not until Lorenzo's death re- 
moved the protection he accorded to Savonarola, did 
the Curia undertake to crush the strenuous Prior. 

We have always been told to execrate the Banker- 
Prince, to reverence the Reformer, yet the facts make 
one doubt and pause. Was not perhaps Lorenzo the 
wiser and truer patriot of the two ? 

''^ Prove all things; hold fast that which is true," 
warns St. Paul, but how is anything to be proved? 
"What is truth?" asks Pontius Pilate gravely of the 
Hebrews who come before his judgement seat; and 
no one of them can answer his terrible enquiry, 
though no doubt each was sure he had the root of 
the matter in him. 

"Words, words, words !" cries Hamlet, despair- 
[ 202 ] 



THE LITTLE MEMBER 

ingly. " Winged words," the poet calls them, that fly 
like thistledown, each silver web of pinions carry- 
ing a seed of thought in the centre of its fairy feath- 
ers, to be sown as chance and the wind wills, and to 
spring up again in rank and bristling growths. 

Jean Jacques Rousseau — a vulgar, selfish senti- 
mentalist, who lived upon the purse of silly women, 
abandoned the helpless fruits of his passing amours 
to public charity, and gravely chronicled his petty 
egregiousnesses for posterity — blew this seeded this- 
tledown through Europe, and with it overthrew 
laws and thrones. 

William Jennings Bryan, an ex-strolling player 
and briefless attorney, poured forth in a golden 
voice a majestic borrowed phrase, and millions of 
his countrymen followed him like sheep for years, 
though never was one great deed put to his credit. 

In spite of all which, men of action speak scorn- 
fully of "word-braiders"; think indifferently and 
contemptuously of literature; yet books outlive rul- 
ers and races. Carthage was so great a city that for 
fifteen hundred years after its fall it was not neces- 
sary to quarry stone in Syria. From its ruins a hun- 
dred cities have been built, a thousand roads paved. 
Throughout the Middle Ages, and also prior to them, 
Carthage was a building quarry for all Islam, and 
much of Christendom. The Arabian geographer, 
r 203 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

Edrisi, says that in his time no vessel left Tunis 
without some marble plunder from Carthage. The 
whole city of Tunis is built from it, and every town 
on the African coast of the Mediterranean has stolen 
stone from " Kart-Hadast/' Southern Italy, Sicily, 
and Corsica looted building-stuff from its site for 
centuries, and the Cathedral at Pisa was fashioned 
of material taken from the Punic temples. Even yet 
the smaller fragments of its masonry form a layer 
from twelve to fifteen feet deep above the spot once 
occupied by half a million merchants. 

Of this enormous civilization only its wide-flung 
stones remain. Of it we know almost nothing. Its 
life counts for nothing in our lives, yet the litera- 
ture of a little semi-nomad Semitic tribe is as living 
to-day as when it was written. That literature has 
moulded the arts, the polity, the thoughts, the very 
structure of the brains of all Europe. Half the deeds 
of the Occident for the last two thousand years have 
had their germ and impulse from the words of 
Hebrew word-braiders. 

Troy town is as the dream of a dream, but Ho- 
mer's book keeps its folk forever immortal through 
the sheer potency of words. 

Whatever is done by man is soon forgotten, if 
no bard makes a story of it; fitting, filing, shifting, 
matching words. And in making his story, his verbal 

[ 204 ] 



THE LITTLE MEMBER 

picture, he may, and generally does, feel considerably 
greater concern as to its being a good story, a fine 
picture, than an accurate record ; yet once made, it is 
through his eyes that we see the deed forever. 

These obscure, ignored, usually indigent little 
word-smiths sit in dingy corners hammering out their 
phrases, while destruction and reconstruction roar 
about them unheeded. If, however, one stopped to 
contemplate those unimportant-seeming labours with 
observant eyes, it would be obvious that they were 
really engaged in fashioning mankind. It would be 
seen that out of these small booths had come the 
impressions and impulses that were pushing and pull- 
ing the loud mob making history outside. It would 
be seen that here were being laid the eggs from which 
were to be hatched future heroisms and murders, 
future wars and migrations ; that this was the soil in 
which was germinating the seed of the convictions 
and aspirations of generations still inconceivably 
remote in the future. The philosophical student of 
these shabby artisans would perceive that, though 
they as often wrote false as true, their pens were 
indubitably mightier than all the blades ever forged 
by the armourers of Toledo or Damascus. 



XI 

MR. SLUDGE, THE MEDIUM 

SOME ten years since, as the nineteenth century 
was nearing its close, I took occasion to put 
forth some speculations as to the nature of the Time- 
Spirit of the coming era. These could by no chance 
be more than speculations, for at that moment the 
manifestations of the Zeitgeist were still too vague and 
inchoate to lend themselves to prophecy. One gen- 
eration, or one century, melts so imperceptibly into 
another, that it is difficult to draw a line clearly be- 
tween them, since, before the passing one has wholly 
passed, the new one is itself tending toward its 
close. Yet each generation feels a new impulse; 
differs as does the child from the parent, and each 
century essays a new solution of the problem of 
life. 

The pendulum of the ages swings across a fixed 
parabola, but so great is the arc that it requires a 
period of twice fifty years to cross the spaces divid- 
ing one extreme of human tendency from the other. 
No sooner has this pendulum reached the limit of 
its rise than all the forces of reaction combine to 
[ 206 ] 



MR. SLUDGE, THE MEDIUM 

drag it back toward the opposite ultimate. Yet the 
segment of the circle across which it moves is so 
large, the movement itself so slow, we are always 
unable to mark the moment at which it pauses to 
begin its backward journey. Only the perspective 
of history enables us accurately to time the enor-' 
mous oscillations of the human spirit, swinging back 
and forth in its effort to attain the point of hap- 
piness. 

It, alas! never does quite reach the hoped-for 
goal. Those who push it in one direction are con- 
vinced they might eventually touch the desired point, 
were it not for the gravitation of reactionaries. Al- 
ways at the very verge of reaching it, the thrust in 
the opposite direction becomes irresistible, and they 
must perforce yield, to become reactionaries in their 
turn. 

Looking only so far back as the seventeenth cen- 
tury, one sees the impulse toward individualism cut- 
ting off the head of a king in England, breaking the 
great nobles in France and Russia, developing a re- 
public in Holland, and thinkers everywhere revolt- 
ing against the intellectual tyranny of the Church. 
Then the backward swing begins, and the dominant 
push in the eighteenth century is toward the solidar- 
ity of society regulated by authority. As this impulse 
reaches its apogee, the pendulum is caught once 

[ 207 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

more by the hands of the individualists, and all 
through the nineteenth century is urged further and 
further in the opposite direction. 

We who were bred in the tenets of that nine- 
teenth century scarcely doubted that the logic of 
our doctrines was so irrefutable that all opposition 
must finally give way before it. Only now are we 
awaking to the fact that the chronometry of the 
human spirit knows no change, and that the propul- 
sion toward the other experiment must in turn have 
its way. 

The tick of time demands that the great opposite 
century swing should now begin. So we are passing 
in this twentieth epoch of our era to a new adven- 
ture in authority. That this authority is called so- 
cialism, that its brow is not bound with a jewelled 
circlet, in no way alters its real character. The theory 
is still the same — of the individual will subjected 
to the desired benefit of the whole body. 

The past century argued that if each were blest, 
the whole — being but individuals in the aggregate 

— must perforce be content. The theory of the new 
generation is that if the whole be benefited, the 
individual — being but a component of the whole 

— must find satisfaction. 

Mark the delightful similarity of the difference 
between Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee! 
[208 ] 



MR. SLUDGE, THE MEDIUM 

Either one of these hypotheses of happiness might 
be turned into a condition were it not for " the Other 
Fellow " — that wrong-headed person, who is always 
opposed to the practical demonstration of our theory. 
No matter how clearly it is explained to him, how 
luminously it is shown to be supremely desirable 
that he should accept our opinion as a way out of 
all difficulties, he remains stupidly unconvinced. In 
the most tiresome fashion he responds to crystal- 
clear exegesis by setting up counter-theories of his 
own. Theories that would not appeal to the intel- 
lect of a child; how much less worthy of the atten- 
tion of one really intent upon regenerating society !• 
It is he who blocks and delays all progress. He 
it is who holds back the millennium; and just as 
one is on the point of pushing Time's pendulum 
beyond the fatal line of reaction, he brutally throws 
his whole weight upon it, forcing it again to its long 
lamentable swing in the wrong direction. If he were 
once eliminated, bringing back the Golden Age would 
be a task almost absurdly simple. Naturally, it is 
one's plain duty to oppose him tooth and nail. To 
confute with all one's might his fantastic plans for 
the general welfare; which would obviously not be 
welfare at all, so entirely are they opposed to all 
one's own natural needs and wishes. 

Reducing it to the individual life, the same dis- 
[ 209 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

tressing element of the Other Fellow confuses all 
the smoothness of existence. How easy it were to 
be good, to be gay, to be amiable, efficient, and 
happy, with the Other Fellow eliminated ! He has 
a congenital inability to see eye for eye with us. 
His mood never fits our own. He desires things 
cold that should obviously be hot. He suffisrs from 
the most dreary notions of what is amusing, wise, 
or desirable. He misinterprets one's noblest inten- 
tions, opposes one's most unselfish efforts, and 
continually rouses all one's righteous antagonisms 
by his mistaken views and actions. Could one be 
properly understood and seconded, how beautiful 
life might be ! Instead, we are forced, against our 
will, to fight aggression with aggression ; self-seek- 
ing with self-protection ; misconception with resent- 
ment. 

It is this difference of temperament, of our man- 
ner of envisaging life, that makes the Golden Rule 
so inadequate a law of being. To do unto others as 
we would they should do unto us is the most accept- 
able of maxims to a generous heart. It is delicious 
to do what seems good to us. Only, alas ! what we 
would have done to us seems anything but good to 
the Other Fellow. Far more difficult is the rule, "Do 
unto others what they would have you do unto them." 
That is a counsel of perfection requiring almost 

[ 2IO ] 



MR. SLUDGE, THE MEDIUM 

superhuman selflessness; demanding a delicacy of 
sympathy possible only to the clairvoyance of a 
.perfect love. 

The Other Fellow has command of the pendulum 
just now. He is dragging it out of our hands toward 
a new experiment in authority. For the theory of 
socialism is not democratic; its whole tendency is 
autocratic. We of the individualistic persuasion have 
not proved the perfection of our plan. The individ- 
ual has shown that, left to uncurbed expansion, he 
may bear hardly upon whole classes of individuals. 
We feel, secretly, that the fault is entirely with that 
other class. If it were not feckless, idle, incompe- 
tent, and constantly yearning for some miracle to 
relieve it of the need for alertness, energy, and self- 
reliance, it would see how admirable the present con- 
ditions are ; and we stand despairingly by as we 
watch the whole fabric of democracy and individual 
freedom, which we so sweated and laboured to per- 
fect, slowly being undone by the Other Fellow, for 
whose character and views we feel unutterable con- 
tempt. 

" Let all these weaklings and malingerers," — 
we say bitterly, — " these envious, lazy ' have-nots,' 
try the old game for a while. Let them search for a 
Northwest Passage to happiness. Let them imagine 
a vain thing of government which, by mere wizardry, 

[ZM ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

is to make it possible for something to be created out 
of nothing ; is to give the maximum of well-being 
for a minimum of effort. It can't be done, of course; 
but let them try — the fools ! Let them go clamour- 
ing after loud-mouthed demagogues, who find their 
political fortunes in abusing us. The demagogues 
will ride them harder than ever we did." 

Naturally, a decent sense of citizenship obliges 
us to throw our weight against the present trend 
of events, until, as is highly probable, by the end 
of another century the exhausted energies of our 
antagonists will yield in turn to our own efforts. 

This alternation of cycle and epicycle can be traced 
and predicated like isothermal lines and barometric 
changes. The strong, the practical, and the opti- 
mistic, finding human affairs in a melancholy welter, 
roll up their sleeves and begin to set matters in 
order, dealing with them in practical and concrete 
fashion. They sweep away theories, discard dreams, 
and place conditions on "a business basis." In such 
a cycle the practical and efficient climb to the top, 
bestride the feebler multitude, and, intoxicated with 
their own power, begin to tyrannize. 

Then the less efficient grow restive ; criticize the 
whole polity of the times, and ponder changes which 
will equalize the humble and the great, the efficient 
and the inefficient. 

[ 212 ] 



MR. SLUDGE, THE MEDIUM 

The more ingenious conceive a plan for inevitably 
righting all wrongs, readjusting all inequalities, and 
ensuring universal happiness. This plan gradually 
leavens the minds of the mass, and the power of the 
rulers begins to rock upon the surge of inferior 
discontent. For no matter how strong a man be, 
a hundred weak men are still stronger. This is the 
opportunity of ambitious adventurers ready to fish 
in troubled waters ; finding their opportunity in 
utilizing unrest. They are but the strong again, 
masquerading as the friends of the feeble. In their 
skilful hands the dreams are directed and made a 
lever, and the old round once more repeats itself. 
The strong who have led it to this point again 
bestride the vague, bewildered multitude, until it 
once more becomes restive to the point of trying 
still a new attempt at universal well-being. 

All that is now claimed for socialism was claimed a 
century ago for democracy, and doubtless the ambi- 
tious will use socialism for their own purposes as the 
strong and the loud-voiced bent that older panacea 
to their own uses. Justice and liberty, fraternity 
and equal opportunity, and the rights of the hum- 
ble, were shibboleths then as now. Then as now the 
virtuous dreamers with shining eyes saw in the new 
prescription a cure for all the ills of life. A century 
ago the gentle souls allowed themselves to be angry 
[ 2^3 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

and contemptuous with those who predicted que plus 
<^a change plus cest le meme chose. 

As a perhaps necessary concomitant of the social 
unrest — this effort to reach results not by the tedi- 
ous methods of natural evolution, but by the magic 
of a formula — there has arisen a new interest in the 
occult and the supernatural. The same phenomena 
accompanied the early growth of the democratic 
experiment. Cagliostro and Mesmer, and many 
less famous imitators, exploited supernormal signs 
and wonders; convincing gaping crowds of their 
miraculous enfranchisement from nature, or of their 
discovery of scientific laws that were more nearly 
scientific anarchy. CagHostro's mummeries seem 
dreary vieux jeux to us now, but were really no more 
fantastic than those of his Baboo successors, who 
simply remove their origin a few degrees of longi- 
tude further to the East. Mesmer's claims are copied 
and imitated to-day by fat, placid old fakirs, who 
form classes of idle ladies to study the vibration 
of "blue waves." Vibrations by whose means these 
ladies hope to evade the results of imprudent eating, 
or to daunt the encroachment of that "middle-aged 
spread " which makes the revived Empire fashions 
a sight to draw tears from the angels. 

" Mr. Sludge, the Medium " has, however, the 
front rank among contemporary impostors. Socie- 

[ 214 ] 



MR. SLUDGE, THE MEDIUM 

ties are founded to study his most banal attempts 
at deception ; the members of which societies display- 
so persistent and passionate a determination to be 
gulled as must earn the scornful wonder of the male 
and female Sludge, who can but wish at times for 
sufficient increduHty to make their mystifications 
more flattering to their own sense of skill. However 
he or she may bungle and stammer, 'tis, — 

** 'Just as you thought, much as you might expect ! 

There be more things in heaven and earth, Horatio ! . . . 

And so on. Shall not David take the hint. 

Grow bolder, stroke you down at quickened rate ? 

If he ruffle a feather, it's 'Gently, patiently! 

Manifestations are so weak at first! 

Doubting, moreover, kills them, cuts all short ! * 

So David holds the circle, rules the roast. 
Narrates the vision, peeps in the glass ball, 
Sets-to the spirit-writing, hears the raps. 
As the case may be.'* 

There is an almost pathetic quality in the con- 
fessions of these earnest investigators — confes- 
sions so often published in the ladies' fashion jour- 
nals. They particularize their enormous precautions 
against fraud, and then artlessly, a few paragraphs 
further on, relate that Little Bright Eyes, or Little 
Sunshine, the control, begged them squeakily to 
move further away, so close a contiguity being bad 
[ ^-5 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

for the medium. After which the same old banjo 
floats in the air; the same old clammy hand lays itself 
unpleasantly upon the believer's neck. 

What is most remarkable to the outsider is the lack 
of vivacious originality in the spirit-world. Why 
always a banjo or tambourine? Why not a floating 
piano sometimes ? That would be really remarkable. 
Why always that lamentable vagueness about con- 
ditions on "the other side"? Why, after all those 
thrills and tremors, and low lights, is the revelation 
rarely more valuable than the information that the 
dear late Uncle Jacob's missing blue cotton umbrella 
may be found in the east gable of the garret? 

One feels that if one "passed over" one's self and 
was allowed to be a "control," one could make se- 
ances more lively and entertaining by far. And why 
must all controls be Little Sunshines lisping baby 
talk, or Indian chiefs using a pigeon-English which 
would be scorned by the most degraded Digger? 
Why never Little Buttercup, or an Arab chief — 
just for a change ? 

My own first experience with a medium intro- 
duced me to that overworked Indian spirit. The 
medium — a large, soft, dingy lady breathing a min- 
gled aroma of onions and crumbs — explained that the 
noble savage who spoke by her lips endeavoured to 
indicate houses, when he used the term " lodges " ; 

[216] 



MR. SLUDGE, THE MEDIUM 

That " wampum " stood in his simple barbaric vocab- 
ulary for money; and that "chiefs" was his artless 
ungrammatic synonym for the male sex. Whereupon 
she fell into rigours, and Lo the poor Indian poured 
forth a stream of broken-English generalities, in 
which all nouns were tagged with "ums." After 
prophesying my future possession of much wampum, 
my sojourn in many lodges, and the friendship of 
many chiefs, he suddenly wound up with the start- 
ling advice, " but don't you trust no chief-ums, cause 
chief-ums they' s all hell-urns I '' 

The best proof of the persistency of the type, of 
the dreary lack of inventiveness among the mediums, 
is Browning's "Mr. Sludge, 'the Medium'"; that 
terrible soul analysis of David Home, written more 
than half a century ago. The whole bag of tricks is 
already there. 

A delightful experience, in which I have fre- 
quently indulged myself, is to let the medium draw 
from one's self all his astonishing information — 
only ensuring that what he draws shall be false. 
Seeing that their business is to trade on human cre- 
dulity, it is in its way touching to observe how inva- 
riably they fall into this trap. To see how they will 
welter in banal generalities until they catch the false 
clue casually let drop, and how skilfully they will 
spin the invented thread whose end has been handed 
[ 217 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

out to them. They grow more exact and authori- 
tative with every gasp of surprise at the accuracy 
of their carefully supplied knowledge. The light in 
their eyes is an interesting side-light upon human 
nature, as one thanks them warmly for their astound- 
ing knowledge of the life and character of the Uncle 
Jacob whose existence one invented in the course 
of the sitting. 

Between myself and various mediums that myth- 
ical Uncle Jacob has had some startling adventures, 
and has been "shown up" in the most conflicting 
lights. I am, at times, very nearly convinced there 
must really have been an Uncle Jacob, so intimate 
an acquaintance have I acquired with my old rel- 
ative (on the mother's side) since he passed from 
non-existence here to so vivid an actuality in the 
spirit-world. I have developed an almost filial affec- 
tion for my aged kinsman, and profoundly respect 
the retentiveness of his memory for events that never 
took place. Many persons have tenacious recollec- 
tion of real happenings, but no lapse of time, or 
subtilization of substance, ever causes Uncle Jacob 
to forget a detail of the incidents which I have con- 
ceived on the spur of the moment. 

This, as a medium-test, is far superior to cords, 
sealing-wax, or postage-stamps; and so far, at least 
in my experience, has never been known to fail. 

[218] 



MR. SLUDGE, THE MEDIUM 

And yet, despite the dull trickery and common- 
place, despite the bald dreariness of the flabby twad- 
dle which is the sum of what one receives from the 
spirit-world, there is something which one cannot 
dismiss with unreflecting contempt. 

As Sludge himself says at the end of his confes- 
sion : — 

"I cheated when I could. 
Rapped with my toe-joints, set sham hands at work. 
Wrote down names weak in sympathetic ink. 
Rubbed odic lights with ends of phospher-match. 
And all the rest; . . . believe this. 

This trade of mine — I don't know, can't be sure 
But there was something in it, tricks and all.'* 

It is certain, falHble as is human testimony, that 
thousands of men through thousands of years do 
not persistently lie. And so many have testified to 
events not explicable by natural laws — as we know 
them, that it seems credible that events do occur, 
not explicable by natural laws — as we know them. 
Many strange appearances, of course, are so expli- 
cable, were they properly investigated. My one ex- 
perience of the ghostly proved, on examination, to 
have an absurdly simple explanation. Yet the cause 
of the strange appearance, simple as that cause was, 
not the most ingenious of minds could have divined. 
Had it remained uninvestigated, the tale would have 
[ 219] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

been held as a mere lying invention, by those in- 
credulous of marvels. Yet I did see the strange hap- 
penings, resulting merely from an angry beetle and 
from a curious balance of forces that might not occur 
once in a thousand years ; and having discovered the 
origin of this phenomenon, I am indulgently allowed 
to be accurately relating an actual fact. No doubt 
many of the startling stories told, and disbelieved, 
are entirely truthful descriptions of real occurrences, 
and have equally simple and obscure causes. 

Yet after having written off all the incidents and 
coincidences imperfectly realized, there remains a 
residuum of occurrences which demand other ex- 
planation. It is not too much to suppose that there 
are many natural laws as yet unknown to us, nor to 
suppose that these inexplicabilities are simply flashes 
out of the unknown ; as many electrical manifesta- 
tions must have puzzled observers — and cruelly 
blighted their reputation for veracity — before we 
learned some of the laws of the most prodigious and 
subtle force yet within our ken. That we still move 
about in worlds unrealized, the discoveries of every 
year more fully testify. How unescapable it was, for 
example, to attribute to divine wrath all violent and 
deadly epidemics before science had entered the field 
of bacteriology. How else was one to explain a sud- 
den blight for which no cause could be discovered? 
[ 220 ] 



MR. SLUDGE, THE MEDIUM 

Now that microscopes have made us free of the 
privacies of the invisible, the thrill and terror of 
such visitations attenuates itself to a mere reproach- 
ful scolding of the local Health Board. Microbes 
have swum within the ken of natural law, and must 
submit to police regulation like the rest of us. We 
can now hear, and credit, with perfect calmness, the 
otherwise terrifying news that the average healthy 
mouth contains more inhabitants than the kingdom 
of Holland. What difference if it does? We know 
that these creatures, like ourselves, are subject to a 
fixed and intelligible code. It is only the unknown 
and unregulated which is disturbing. One may 
cheerfully, nay, amusedly, look at one's own skele- 
ton, having some idea of the action of the X-ray. 
How it would crisp the human spirit thus to see its 
solid flesh melt into transparence, were the manner 
of the process of such seeing still wrapped in mys- 
tery ! The prodigies of radium still attend codifying 
and explaining, but we await its marvels and poten- 
cies placidly, knowing that its subtleties are still 
within the realm of matter, and that all matter is 
subject to law. 

The terror of the supernatural has its base in the 
natural horror of the material brought face to face 
with the immaterial ; with a vague inchoate some- 
thing which seems to know no law. Our existence 
[ ^^^ ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

being substantially in three dimensions, we have the 
agonizing sensation of stepping off into thin air 
when confronted with entities which appear to move 
in a fourth. And yet, after all, why should we so 
tremble, since science is showing us almost every day 
substances to which what is called matter presents 
no barriers ? is showing us forces against which the 
clenched cohesion of hammered steel is as loose 
woven as muslin, — rays to which our compact flesh 
is as open-meshed as a fish-net? 

The test of our senses we know to be the rough- 
est and clumsiest of mensurations. The ultra-vio- 
let rays we are aware of, though invisible. The 
undertones and overtones beyond our scale we can- 
not hear, though we can measure their vibrations. 
We cannot smell the thousand odours palpable to 
our dogs ; nor hear the earth-worm working in the 
ground, as a robin can. And is it not possible that 
the thunders of cannon are inaudible overtones to a 
robin ? 

Our ghostly phenomena are merely phenomena 
whose laws are still unknown to us ; vibrations to 
whose waves we have not yet applied the measure- 
ments of mathematics. 

Many of the miracles of the hagiologists — so po- 
tent a cause of gaping wonder to believers, of scornful 
incredulity to scoffers — we now know to have been 

[ 222 ] 



MR. SLUDGE, THE MEDIUM 

real happenings, and perfectly within the limits of 
the possible. The stigmata of St. Francis is a com- 
monplace of the students of hysteria. The haloes 
of the saints really were haloes and not pious ima- 
gination. Benvenuto Cellini saw one about his own 
wicked head ; others have seen the same miracle, 
which is now understood as a curious effect of light 
following fixed and natural laws. 

Looked at rightly, a photograph is as much a 
miracle as the " materialization *' of the mediums. 

<*This is her picture as she was! 
It seems a thing to wonder on. 
As though mine image in the glass 
Should linger when myself am gone." 

That the sun should record in a mere instant of 
time, on glass, or films of gelatine, the exact linea- 
ments of a human being, — including the subtle some- 
thing that is personality, — and that this record should 
remain fixed for years, is as wonderful as " though 
mine image in the glass should linger when myself 
am gone." That this wonder does not stir us is 
because we know the laws governing it. We would 
be thrown into an agony of amazement did a fakir 
produce it for the first time as a full-blown mira- 
cle from his bag of tricks — we all ignorant of its 
mechanism. 

All that we now know as the supernatural daunts 
[ 223 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

us only because of its apparent lawlessness. We 
tremble before elements whose powers for evil we 
cannot gauge, nor guess at the wild caprices that 
may inspire the actions of those forces. Once re- 
duce them to rule and they become commonplace, 
and we indifferent. 

All these absurd passagings and excursions of the 
tamperers with the mystic have yet their value, since 
they may be like those in the Western Islands who 
found strange flotsam on the beach, and from them 
inferred America. Some navigator may be even 
now turning over these rude carvings and drifting 
boughs, and slowly planning a daring Columbian 
voyage into the unknown. The Pragmatists, as I 
have said, suggest that we do not yet guess at our 
real mental, physical, and moral possibilities. That 
within us may lie untested potencies. The swimmer 
knows that, as long as he thinks the water can bear 
him up, it does bear him up. When he loses that 
confidence, he sinks. Perhaps we allow ourselves to 
be daunted too greatly by our fear of gravitation, by 
our experience of ponderability, of cohesion. Per- 
haps will, and belief, will help us to burst their erst- 
while iron bonds. The child with no experience of 
danger will dare and accomplish what the older spirit 
trembles to attempt. It stirs the soul to picture 
some great navigator setting sail from the shores of 
[ ^H ] 



MR. SLUDGE, THE MEDIUM 

the familiar, across the uncharted deeps, to round 
the globe of cognition, and find a great new land of 
knowledge and power. 

** Come, my friends, 
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world; 
Push off, and sitting well in order smite 
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds 
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths 
Of all the Western stars, until I die. 
It may be that the gulfs shall wash us down; 
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles, 
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew." 



XII 

"UPON MAKING THE MOST OF LIFE" 

TO read a book by Vernon Lee is to receive an 
impression such as one experiences upon mak- 
ing for the first time a visit in a beautiful room. 
The earliest sensation is a general one of quiet 
charm, of soft colours, of clear, sweet spaces of light 
and air. But as one lingers in this soothing atmos- 
phere of agreeableness, the eye gradually discerns 
that the room is full of delightful and valuable ob- 
jects, whose individual importance had been blended 
with — had indeed in sum composed — the deli- 
cate harmony of the chamber. 

The pleasantest fact of the visit will be, how- 
ever, — if one be of a somewhat greedy mental tem- 
perament, — that upon one's admiring such of the 
treasures as most appeal to one's taste, the hostess 
immediately presents them to her guest, after the 
high tradition — rather than the practice — of an- 
cient Spanish courtesy. And having brought them 
home, these gifts seem even more desirable than they 
appeared in their original fine setting. For the bene- 
faction — whether it be a picture of some soft, twilit 
[ 226 ] 



MAKING THE MOST OF LIFE 

landscape, an outline of the head of an old Tuscan 
peasant, or some seed of abstract thought — be- 
comes, by the graciousness and completeness of the 
gift, a part of one's own mental furnishing, or else a 
germ of ideas that in a new soil quickly grows new 
shoots and branches, and puts forth flowers of new 
colour and feeling to perfume and irradiate one's 
own garden. It is indeed the special beneficence of 
strong and creative minds, that they fertilize and 
develop into definite growth the soil of other intel- 
ligences. 

Making one of these agreeable visits within the 
covers of "Hors Vitae," I brought away — along 
with an armload of other pleasant gifts — two quo- 
tations from " The Praise of Courtship," which 
were like the title and colophon of an essay upon 
one of the vexedest puzzles of human life. The first 
was Rochefoucauld's saying, — "II y a de bons 
marriages, mais point de delicieux." The other was 
an expression employed by a certain sister after 
nursing a small brother through a difficult illness. 
" We were always Castilian," she said. 

The two sayings fitted one another like a ques- 
tion and its answer ; like a riddle and its solution. 
For between that assertion and suggestion lies the 
meaning of one of the heaviest failures of the aver- 
age human life. 

[ 227 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

Why — even when the lives are good — do they 
so rarely manage to be delicieux? Not in marriage 
alone, but in most of our human ties? Most of us 
begin with the intention that they shall be delicious ; 
that not through our fault shall they fail of being not 
only the sound, wholesome bread of life, but that the 
bread shall be spread with bland butter and dipped 
into honeyed sweetness. We are quite determined 
it shall be a meal upon which our whole nature shall 
feed with perfect pleasure and content. And after 
the passage of time we, almost without exception, 
painfully realize that our food is hard, tasteless, and 
dry ; and is to be got down at all only by the aid of 
the salt of humour, or the moisture of tears. 

Yet so many relations are delicious in the begin- 
ning, and so promising of steadfastness in delight. 
— The relation of parent and child : protecting and 
unselfish on one side, confiding and clinging on the 
other. Or the relation of brothers and sisters : full 
of cheerful comradeship, sympathetic tastes, and the 
strong bond of common experiences and interests. 
Of teacher and pupil ; of friend and friend ; explor- 
ing new fields of thought together, or the pleasant 
surprises of each other's minds. More than all are 
the relations of lovers and the newly married deli- 
cious to poignancy: full of almost breathlessly joy- 
ous discoveries of mutual tendernesses and beauties 
[ "8 ] 



MAKING THE MOST OF LIFE 

of person and character ; with, underneath, the soul- 
satisfying sense that here at last is a possession 
quite of one's own; a possession no one else has a 
right to share or dispute. 

Why should the light of common day drink the 
dewy freshness from all of these, leaving them arid 
and faded, so that even the most wilful blindness 
of heart cannot persuade one of their continued 
deliciousness ? 

The tired and disappointed eye will turn en- 
viously upon a few rare companionships which, 
while letting the spring flowers pass unprotestingly, 
set the gardens of their mutual relations with the 
satisfactory replacements of gay, hardy autumn 
blooms and savoury herbs, whose bright colours 
and pungent odours make the place still a spot 
of content and beauty. Why, one asks one's self 
forlornly, should my enclosure be bare of all charm 
and sweetness ? Why should it be but a dusty, 
beaten plaza for the hurried passageway of indiffer- 
ent feet, instead of a Paradise where, even in the 
cool of the day, the god of love should still walk ? 
A region 

" Where branched thoughts, now grown with pleasant pain. 
Instead of pines shall murmur in the wind — 
And in the midst of this wide quietness 
A rosy sanctuary I will dress 

[ 229 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

With the wreathed trellis of a working brain. 
With buds and bells, and stars without a name. 
With all the Gardener Fancy e'er could feign. 
Who, breeding flowers, will never breed the same ; 
And there should be for thee all soft delight 
That shadowy thought can win, 
A bright torch, and a casement ope at night 
To let the warm Love in ! " 

The unintrospective, unanalytical mind explains 
the difficulty as the mere cooling and hardening of 
age, but a doubt arises sometimes whether there be 
such a thing as age of the spirit. That is to say, is 
age an innate change, or a condition imposed from 
without? Is one old because one looks at one's self 
from a different angle, or is the condition of mind 
superinduced by the angle from which one is regarded 
by others? A woman of fifty once shyly confessed 
that she herself was still ready to dance all night with 
the same enthusiasm she had known at sixteen, but 
added sadly that the joy of the measured rhythm of 
activity must be a dual joy, and that no one wanted 
to dance all night with one who was grey-haired. 
Who knows what similar instincts of gay abandon 
may not pulse behind the dull faces, within the bald 
heads, of stout-waisted parents sleepily propping the 
walls, while their laughing offspring decline to catch 
a protesting eye as they start upon one more musi- 
cal romp in the small hours of the morning? 
[ 230 ] 



MAKING THE MOST OF LIFE 

Admitting that they have had their day, that they 
must make way for the newcomers, is it yet to be ac- 
cepted without question that there is to be no more 
deliciousness for those who linger at life's feast? 
Dancing may be abandoned without undue reluc- 
tance, but are all the pleasant adventures and rela- 
tions of the soul to be foregone while the sun is still 
but halfway down the slope? That the pleasantness 
is burned out early in the afternoon is lamentably com- 
mon. Most of the apparently cheerful bearers of the 
burden of middle age would admit — could they be 
induced to speak the whole truth — that for them 
existence had narrowed down to such grey satisfac- 
tion as is to be found in the performance of obvious 
duties, and that the word "deliciousness" had now 
scarcely a meaning for their dulled memories, their 
flagging relish of life. 

In moments of the sad hlaircissement of soli- 
tary meditation, when we turn aside from ordinary 
occupations to reckon up our meagre remnant of 
treasures from a store once so ample, we wonder 
what it is we have done, or left undone, to have 
so shrunk our fortunes of happiness. Why has our 
property not been put out at interest, so that it 
should have grown instead of diminishing? We 
should be richer, instead of poorer, for the accu- 
mulations of the passing years. Nearer and deeper 
[ ^31 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

ties should bind us for each twelve-month we have 
lived with those we loved. Closer and closer should 
we have been interlaced by subtle tendrils nourished 
and watered by the tears we have shed together, 
by mutual feasts and jests, common labours and 
interests. New friends should have multiplied, and 
our children and theirs should have been built into 
the pattern of life, to have made it always richer and 
more varied. 

Whose fault is it that it is not so ? Very few of 
us are prepared to admit that the fault was wholly 
our own. On casual examination it seems very plain 
that it was the fault of our fellows. We remember 
the confiding, reverent, unquestioning love we bore 
our parents ; but they, who up to a certain point 
had been all unselfish devotion, suddenly seemed 
to be quite transformed. Just as we were growing 
ready to take our part in life they found our friends 
tedious, or undesirable; they were contemptuous 
or indifferent of our most passionate ambitions and 
desires ; they distrusted our powers, and repressed 
and chilled our warmest enthusiasms. Having 
brought us to the gate of the world of men, they 
seemed suddenly reluctant to let us through, and 
stood there, hesitating and discouraging us, with 
their hands on the latch, until we were obliged to 
push past them — a little hastily, just a thought 
[ 232 ] 



MAKING THE MOST OF LIFE 

rudely, perhaps — if we were ever to enter at all. 
Upon which they fell back with an air of wounded 
affection which put us at fault, set us awkwardly on 
the defensive, so that we could no longer run to 
them to be comforted for all our small wounds, to 
brag of our triumphs, to confide our plans. And 
so year by year they drew further away from us, 
and we never quite got over our resentful awkward- 
ness, and all that old sweetness, — so dear, so inti- 
mate in childhood, — which we had meant to keep 
all our lives, died away into mere abnegation of 
claim on one side, into respectful dutifulness on the 
other. 

As for one's sisters and brothers: were there 
ever such delightful boys, such lovely girls ? No- 
body else's brothers could jump so high, or throw 
so far, or were so quick at lessons. No other fel- 
low's sisters had such long curls, or such jolly ways. 
There came tiffs of course, but aware underneath of 
the staunch fondness, the falling out of such faith- 
ful friends was renewing still of love. 

The warm, deep sense of strength that loyal com- 
radeship gave ! always ready to take our side against 
the rest of mankind ; full of uncritical readiness to 
believe us in the right of every matter. How those 
kind eyes warmed the world for us ! How pleas- 
ant to be surrounded by those to whom one could 
[ 233 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

say, " Don't you remember ? " Why remember the 
tumbles downstairs, the fight behind the school- 
house, the cat with six toes, the tricks of the grey 
collie. All those pleasant and amusing recollections, 
banal to the stupid outsiders, but full of intimate 
zest for us. 

Certainly it was not one's fault that that relation- 
ship grew cold. Jim lived on the other side of the 
world, and seemed not to care to write ; and Dick, 
like most men who married, had become so absorbed 
in his wife's side of the family that he was almost 
like a stranger. And Mary, who married a soldier, 
was always rushing off to the ends of the earth, 
dragging a lot of half-trained children along, so that 
one never had a chance at her, except intermittently, 
and then in a noisy turmoil of uncomfortable brats. 
As for Jessie, she had become so absorbed in slum 
work and sociological questions — such a gay tom- 
boy as she used to be, too ! — that one could n't get 
any real companionship from her ; besides, she never 
seemed to hit it off with Rosamund, somehow. 

Well — there it was \ All that dear fellowship 
separated and lost. Was that one's fault, I ask 
you ? 

As for Rosamund — poor Rosamund ! It could n't 
be said she was really to blame ; and yet when one 
remembered that dimpled, wilful, bewitching Rosa- 
[ ^34 ] 



MAKING THE MOST OF LIFE 

mund whom one loved with a passion that was an 
exquisite pain — whom each day made always more 
and more adorable, so that one was half frightened 
to think how time and the years would render her 
so dear and dearer all the while that one would 
be robbed of one's manhood by sheer uxorious- 
ness. . . . 

Of course it was nobody's fault that her long ill- 
ness after the twins came should have left her thin 
and bloodless, and gradually transformed her into 
a fretful, self-absorbed valetudinarian; making of 
her a duty to be borne with patience and pity, 
instead of a woman to be worshipped as the Eternal 
Feminine leading one upward and onward. 

As for the twins — Well, they seemed, unfortu- 
nately, to have inherited Rosamund's tenacity of will. 
One would make any sacrifice for them, of course ; 
and of course one loved them more than anything 
in the world, but it does seem a little strange that 
after years of parental devotion they should be so 
reluctant to accept the advice of older and wiser per- 
sons as to which are desirable companions for them, 
and which are not. Strange that they, so young and 
inexperienced, should be so impertinently cocksure 
about their own paths in life ; so ready to push away 
a guiding hand. No doubt one is a fool to expect 
any real gratitude or affection from one's children ! 
[ 235 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

This, or something like this, is the quotient of 
most of these reckonings up of the barren, savour- 
less life of the middle-aged heart. 

" As I came through the Desert thus it was. 
As I came through the Desert — '* 

Delicious? — what cruel irony! One can only- 
draw one's breath hard, and go on with a sort of 
grey courage till the curtain comes down on a play 
whose last act is dull and disappointing. 

And yet — and yet — those others ; those few 
others — they carried on triumphantly until the end. 
"What was their secret? 

They went to the very end with their parents, 
delicately readjusting their attitude until it was they 
who protected and judged, the parents who clung 
and trusted. They kept the childish comradeship 
warm and close through all mutations. In marriage 
they remained absurd, delightful lovers till the 
golden-wedding day ; and finally their children laid 
them in the grave with an agony of regret rarer than 
is admitted. There was some magic in it. Of course 
there were not many like this — most of the world 
was just like ourselves, and no one kept all the ties 
perfect ; but to preserve even one relation delicieux 
is sufficient to make hfe worth living. 

Knowing, as we all do know in the last analysis, 
that it is only the human affections which can pre- 

[ ^36] 



MAKING THE MOST OF LIFE 

serve the flavour of existence for us, the wonder Is 
that we are so careless of our treasures. Riches, 
honour, fame, even labour, all pall at last, but a 
perfect love, perfectly given and perfectly returned, 
knows no satiety, no flagging of joy — having its 
roots In the deepest primitive depths of being. For 
to be indispensable to some one means a more cer- 
tain foothold in the struggle for survival ; it means 
that to our own effort to live is added the passion- 
ate effbrt of others, which In moments of stress 
may contribute just the needed power that will 
enable us to breast the flood which otherwise might 
drag us down. Not that love calculates thus coldly, 
but that from the satisfaction of these fundamen- 
tal unrealized needs springs the warm courage and 
peace that love gives. It is the relaxing of these 
strong, clinging ties, this chilling of the insistent 
claims of affection, that makes the lonely bleakness 
of age. No one needs us, or holds to us ; and we 
feel a blank creeping terror of defencelessness. Love, 
that flings itself madly between youth and death, 
stands usually respectfully unprotesting when age 
drifts out into the darkness. 

This being so, — Life needing Love more pro- 
foundly than all things else, — why is It that the 
science of the affections remains always in its in- 
fancy ? All the other sciences go forward In leaps 
[ 237 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

of progress. Passionate patience, exquisite subtilty, 
incredible genius are placed at the service of biology, 
chemistry, astronomy, — but who gives even a mo- 
ment of labour to "amology " ? The whole subject 
is unanalyzed, is left to chance ; with resultant igno- 
rance and chaos. Some few arrive at the desired end 
by divine intuition, but they cannot instruct their 
helpless fellows, since inspiration is difficult to con- 
vey. Psychologists, who might well devote their 
initial effi^rts to such practical ends, waste energy on 
table-rappings and spook-hunts while the delicate 
flowers of the human spirit wither neglected in an 
untilled, unwatered soil. 

"We were always Castilian." That sounds as if 
it were the key to the science of love. I n other words, 
we practised the imagination of the heart. We stepped 
delicately along the space set apart for the feet, not 
blundering across the blossoms like an unwhipped 
puppy, unable to differentiate between the permitted 
paths and the formal reservations of the flowery 
spaces of the soul. We observed the manners of the 
spirit, and its code imposes not only respect for the 
reserves of others, but profound reserves of our own. 

This is a hard saying for the underbred heart to 

whom comfort in love, as in body, implies relaxation 

from restraint. Which finds its pleasure in sprawling 

in uncorseted ease in the presence of its intimates, 

[238] 



MAKING THE MOST OF LIFE 

reserving formalities for the indifferent and the 
stranger. Vulgarity resents the constraint and effort 
of giving daily of its best to its life's compan- 
ions. It prefers — so to speak — to dine in its shirt- 
sleeves in the kitchen with its own, and entertains 
only casual callers in the chilly best room, where 
the choicest belongings of the mind grow dull and 
musty for lack of use. 

Undoubtedly it is a strain to be forever en tenue^ 
to practise all day and every day the high courtesies 
of affection ; but it is exactly this being always Cas- 
tihan which is the price of the relation that is deli- 
cieux. Nothing so frays the bonds of love as the 
bad manners of the heart — the small brutalities 
which, forgiven in detail, mount through the years 
to a monstrous sum, to be repaid only by resent- 
ment or indifference. The spiritually underbred are 
not only restive under this demand for perpetual 
civility, they are awkward and roughly impatient 
with continual fine manners on the part of their 
associates, and though careless of the demands of 
the amenities of the soul, they resent their con- 
temptuous exclusion from the courts and palaces 
of love. 

There must be some system of reciprocity in 
amity. Some accepted mot de famille, exacting ex- 
change of goods in a more or less honest ratio of 
[ 239 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

return for value received. The deepest heart can- 
not forever give of its bright springs to an arid 
soil where no green thing puts forth to show its 
response to the living waters. Love cannot live if 
it never sees its own face glassed in another's eyes. 
The finest-mannered grandee of Castile cannot 
exist for long at his best among boors. He must 
seek his equals, to be perfectly Castilian. 

The existence of retribution has been always re- 
cognized in the commercial world, where no suc- 
cessful enterprise is conducted without persistent 
attention to detail, without imaginative effort to 
understand and meet the desires, the needs, and 
the prejudices of the public. Failure, it is accepted, 
is the inevitable result of stupidity, indolence, wil- 
fulness, and waste; yet the heart still wonders when 
indulgence in the same vices ensures bankruptcy on 
the Exchange of Love. 



XIII 
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF PAIN 

ORMUZD and Ahriman — Good and Evil 
— Pleasure and Pain! — Broad antitheses that 
have always been recognized, — that have formed 
the cornerstones of all religions, the ovum of myths, 
the study of morahsts, the subject of philosophies. 
But in good truth, were the opposition of these two 
extremes so complete, their boundaries as clearly 
defined as one carelessly supposes, the "Riddle 
of the Universe'* would have been so easily solu- 
ble that the riddle's answer should long ago have 
become a mere household proverb, or the banal 
refrain of children's nursery jingles. 

As a matter of fact, the real vexation and puzzle 
of existence is to define clearly the end of one and 
the beginning of another ; to map out their waver- 
ing, shadowy frontiers ; to set up guide-posts that 
shall plainly indicate the desired path to the human 
wayfarer ; keep his feet from these treacherous mo- 
rasses that look so like green pastures. 

Roughly speaking, pain is considered an evil, 
pleasure a good. Conversely, evil will produce pain ; 

[ ^41 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

out of good springs pleasure. Apparently, all the 
efforts of humanity are bent toward minimizing 
the sources of suffering, toward increasing the sum 
of pleasure. And if pain were really so dreaded and 
avoided as we have the habit of believing, the task 
of lightening mankind's burdens would be far sim- 
pler than any philanthropist has yet found it. But 
differentiation between suffering and joy is not so 
easy as would at first appear. The world is by no 
means of one mind in its definition of good and 
evil — as witness the proverb that all agreeable 
things are indigestible, expensive, or immoral. 

Leaving aside for the moment the lines of mo- 
rality, with their baffling interlacings of pleasure 
productive of suffering, and anguish out of which 
grows joy, to take only the question of physical 
distress, — which it would seem men would avoid 
whenever possible, — a curious psychological fact is 
that pain is not always avoided; is indeed often 
sought and clung to with a strange pertinacity which 
at first sight seems to suggest a fantastic abnor- 
mality. Ahriman has in all ages had his voluntary 
votaries ; the altar of Our Lady of Pain its wilful 
victims, who will by no means be denied. 

Martyrs of religion and patriotism are compre- 
hensible enough. To suffer for eventual good is 
not illogical. All civilization must be based upon 
[ 242 ] 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF PAIN 

a readiness to bear evil that benefit may result — 
either to one's self, or others. The strangeness of 
the deliberate, wilful choice of dolour demands a 
more subtle analysis. 

Why must so many of us, like Philomel, — 

'* Lean her breast uptil a thorne," 

to achieve our highest note of life ? 

The root of it must be sought in the remotest pro- 
fundities of " the will to live " ; in the primal deeps 
of growth and evolution. All matter maintains a 
constant struggle to pass from the simple to the 
complex ; to develop sensibilities, to grow nerves, to 
expand sensation. To what " far-off divine event " 
the whole of creation thus moves is not yet guess- 
able, but certain it is that the whole mass of life 
pushes laboriously, passionately, toward a greater 
capacity to feel, toward enormous specialization 
of faculty, toward acuteness of function, toward 
vividness of sentiency. From the lowest form of 
protoplasm to the highest human intelligence, this 
tendency, this upward, outward striving is unbro- 
kenly toward more and fuller life. To evade it is 
to incur death and obliteration. Species and races 
which relax in intensity are crushed out, swept away, 
forced to yield place to the unrelaxing. By its means 
the blind, formless jellies, vaguely swaying in tide- 
[ 243 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

less darkness, climb through straining aeons to in- 
credible capacities, to exquisite flowerings of complex 
appreciation and emotions. 

Hans Christian Andersen allegorized this in his 
poignant fairy romance of the mermaid who yearned 
for a human experience, a human soul. Only by a 
self-inflicted wound was she enabled to transform 
herself to a biped, fitted to move among the higher 
forms of life ; and always her feet remained so ten- 
der that every step was marked in blood. To acquire 
new functions, to develop new faculties, means to 
enlarge with the higher possibilities of pleasure, 
the higher nervous capacities of pain. Increase of 
the number of avenues of delight by its very nature 
opens new channels for suffering. The higher the 
organism, the more complex the ganglia, the greater 
number of points it presents upon which life can 
touch, the more complete and intense becomes the 
realization of existence. And the need to achieve a 
more vivid sense of being drives us along a thou- 
sand strange roads. It is this need which allures the 
explorer to brave equatorial heat, or arctic cold. It 
leads him down the stream of the uttermost seas, 
up the summit of towering peaks, to skirt along the 
knife edge of annihilation, that he may press in more 
keenly the sense of Hving. It hes at the source of 
the athelete's and sportsman's straining of every 
[ 244 ] 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF PAIN 

faculty, that he may through danger and self-denial 
experience the delicious quiver of exuberant con- 
sciousness of strength and power. 

The same need, the same impulse, is at the root 
of the fasts and macerations of the mystic, that 
thereby he may string to intenser vibration the 
nerves of his emotional sentiency. Life ! more life ! 
demand they all. Through pain to reach pleasure: 
the suffering accentuating satisfaction by the keen- 
ness of contrast; as hunger long borne sauces the 
meal to delicious succulence, as fatigue to the point 
of exhaustion turns the bed to down. The cush- 
ioned sentimentalist's horrified sympathy with the 
poor ignores the intensity of existence of those who 
walk close to the vanishing-point of the means of 
a living. 

Here, then, is the strange secret of those who seek 
and cling to pain ; — the secret of the flagellants, the 
self-crucifiers, the wilful valetudinarians, the degen- 
erates, the hysterics. Pain is their only means of feel- 
ing keenly the sense of living. Truly degenerate, by 
some tragic atavism of birth they are thrown back 
lower in the scale of being. Through some failure of 
nervous or physical adjustment, they do not respond 
readily to normal and healthy stimulations. Their 
nerves are too laxly strung to be vibrant to light or 
soft touches, as a piano with flaccid strings gives out 
[ 245 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

tone only to the stroke of a rude hand. The com- 
mon illusion is that those who turn for stimulation 
to the excesses of vice — alcohol, drugs, gambling, 
crime, or sexual riot — are of a too intense nervous 
organization. The real truth is that their affliction 
is to be of so dull and relaxed a temperament that 
they must perforce bang furiously upon the keys of 
life to awake the necessary resonance, to arouse any 
pulsation of intense vivification. They must resort 
to gross means to produce a response. Those of 
really highly developed nerves shrink from these 
violent assaults upon their senses, which to them 
are shattering and destructive by stirring emotions 
and vibrations too keen for tolerance. Occasionally 
the finer sort, the sharply strung, plunge into this 
vortex hoping to escape some grief, or through 
sheer intellectual curiosity; but invariably they are 
destroyed by the nervous uproar, and emerge mad, 
disorganized, or dead. 

For the normal, for the general, pain is, in a way, 
the test of life, of growth — "the turn of the screw*' 
that tautens the strings and makes them quiver 
with music. The history of the literature of every 
people records a sudden outburst of song, of full 
expression, after all the great historic tragedies. The 
flowering of national genius seems possible only 
after the roots of the race are drenched and nour- 

[ ^46 ] 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF PAIN 

ished by its own blood. The golden time of Peri- 
cles followed the frenzied struggle of the Persian 
wars. The Augustan age was the immediate suc- 
cessor to the hideous turmoils of Sylla and Marius, 
of Pompey and Caesar. The Elizabethans drew a 
long breath after the wars of the Roses and the reli- 
gious scufflings of Henry's reign, and the expiration 
of that breath of relief was in the silver of song 
and the gold of eloquence. " Only he," says Goethe, 
who "has despaired upon his bed" may know and 
utter the mighty truths. 

No : though we imagine we seek peace, this is but 
one of our curious self-delusions. " Not pleasure or 
happiness," says Carlyle, " but pain, misery, and death 
are the greatest attractions to men's souls." For 
only under the whip and spur of pain do we leap the 
apparently insurmountable barriers, reach our high- 
est possibilities, stretch our faculties to the utmost. 

Hearn describes in one of his letters a Polish 
brigade under fire during the Franco-Prussian war. 

" The French batteries are directed upon it ; the fire of 
the mitrailleuses is atrocious. The Polish brigade stands 
still under the infernal hail, cursed by the German officers 
for the least murmur : — ' Silence ! you Polish hogs ! ' — 
while the ground is being strewed with blood and brains 
and entrails. Hundreds fall ; thousands, and the order is 
always, ' Close up, you Polish hogs ! * Just one instant with 
[ H7 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

the bayonet, — one chance to retaliate ; to die like men ! 
But the iron order is to wait. Men sob with rage. ' Silence, 
you Polish beasts ! ' And then at last old Steinmetz, smok- 
ing his pipe in the carnage, gives a signal, — the signal. 
The bugles ring out the air forbidden ever to be sung or 
heard at other times — the national air — * No ! Poland 
is not dead ! ' And with the crash of brass all that lives of 
the brigade is hurled at the French batteries. Mechanical 
power might fling back such a charge, but not human 
power. For old Steinmetz, smoking his pipe, had made, 
Schopenhaueresquely, the mightiest appeal to those ' Polish 
brutes ' that man, God, or devil could make." 

He had deliberately turned and turned the screw 
— fear, rage, insult, anguished resentment, age-long 
memory of national despair — till his human instru- 
ment was tuned to the keenest screech of ecstasy, 
and he could strike the last high note of his battle- 
symphony in the chord of victory. It is through 
these horrible intensities that races and nations 
move forward to power and a wider life. 

Which is why arbitration tribunals are so often 
out of a job, and Peace Societies imagine a vain 
thing. Every once in so often the nerves of a race 
demand a frenzy of stimulation, and willy nilly — 
despite common sense or reason — they will drink 
of the red wine of war, until they rise from a de- 
bauch of blood and tears and suffering, calmed and 
[ h8 ] 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF PAIN 

strengthened in some strange way by the very ago- 
nies endured, to pass onward over the broken hearts 
and lives of individuals to the unknown end to 
which they unconsciously tend. When a race loses 
this appetite for pain, when it fears to wound itself 
and shed its own ichor, some other race, still with 
an unquenched lust of suffering, stamps it into the 
mire, or swallows it piecemeal. And so Ahriman 
takes his toll from them perforce, if they refuse him 
willing offerings. 

What is true of races is always true of the indi- 
viduals that are the integers of peoples. They can 
but live and grow at the price of strain and suffer- 
ing. If given freely and willingly, this brings its 
reward ; it is a sacrifice of sweet savour. Denied, 
evaded, part of the price kept back, though they 
take the wings of the morning and flee unto the 
uttermost parts of the earth, there shall they find 
that avenging deity standing ready to exact his 
uttermost tithe. Heaping the pains of humiliation, 
of non-development, of conscious inferiority, of 
contempt, of feebleness of mind and body, of de- 
feat of plans and hopes, upon those who denied the 
God. 

It is the blind, fumbling recognition of this im- 
mutable law that has been the norm of all religions, 
which, with one voice, though in divers tones, have 

[ 249 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

warned that peace and pleasure blossom only out 
of the seeds of self-inflicted self-denial and pain. 

** Red is the Root of the Law, 
And the stem thereof Pain. 
Bitter the Leaves of the Vine, 
But the Flower, the Flower is white. 
Sweet scented as Sandal and Myrrh. 
And we crush from its clustering Fruit 
The warm secret Wine of our Life. ' ' 

It is the vague unreasoned consciousness of this 
that makes the old ladies, clustered together at the 
baths and cures, brag gently to one another of the 
superior intensity of their individual ailments. Every 
tactful physician plays upon this weakness. 

" I can see that you have suffered terribly/* he 
says, and is rewarded by a lighting eye and a flood 
of confidence in one who appreciates the unique 
value of an individual experiencing a rare extreme 
of sensation. 

" My doctor says my case is a very unusual 
one," the patient boasts with a proud lift of the 
head. 

" I have one of my headaches ! " announces the 
suflTerer with a sense of haughty value, as one might 
speak of an heirloom of incontestable richness ; and 
she looks with distrust and dislike upon one who 
suggests a simple cure. " My headache " sets one 
[ 250 ] 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF PAIN 

apart as chosen for a crown — even though it be 
a circlet of thorns. Robbed of it, one would fall 
back into the undistinguished, undistinguishable 
ruck. Every one has known the sense of flatness 
that comes with the passing of pain, the cure of an 
illness. With the loss of suflTering went also a loss 
of intensity, a failing of justifiable concentration 
upon one*s self. There is a certain savour in mis- 
fortune that springs from a consciousness of being 
set apart to deal more deeply with life than the 
fatly healthy and prosperous. One feels that there 
is something almost vulgar in those who enjoy such 
commonplace bien-etre. What can such as they 
know of the real meaning and profundity of life ? 
Job could not conceal his scorn of his comforters, 
who had not been picked out from the herd to bear 
unusual things. How dared they advise one so 
immensely their superior? Naaman, the Syrian, re- 
sented a simple hygienic suggestion that he needed 
a bath, as thoroughly as all sufferers protest against 
a plain regimen. Theirs is a matter of quite another 
sort. Such simplicity may serve for the suggestors, 
but their ill is a special and superior ill ; mysteri- 
ous, exalted, and unusual. To rob them of it would 
be grand larceny indeed. 

Those whom life has left stranded in the dull 
back-waters of obscurity cling with passion to their 

[ ^51 ] 



AT THE SIGN OF THE HOBBY-HORSE 

ailments. Pain is the only proof of their existence. 
The theft of it would destroy them by sheer inani- 
tion. 

" Non," cries Pierre de Coulevain, " car le douleur donne 
a la vie une saveur incontestable. La preuve est que nous 
exagerons a plaisir notre mal et celui des autres. De plus, 
nous avons Tinstinct que le soufFrance nous grandit et nous 
enoblit. On ne se vante pas d'avoir ete plus heureux que 
celui-ci ou celui-la, mais on se vante d'avoir soufFert davan- 
tage . . . mais je suis oblige de reconnaitre qu'elle est le sel 
de la vie." 

It is possible that through higher development, 
through the refinement of delicate specialization, we 
may some day grow to the point where the coarse- 
ness of pain may be no longer required. When life 
will become sufficiently intense through its joys; 
when we may be so exquisitely attuned that, like 
wind-harps, a mere breath may set quivering golden 
vibrations that will give us the immense sense of 
life for which we yearn. There may come a time 
when the silent glories of — 

" The incomparable pomp of eve" 

will awake as enormous a response as now we achieve 
only through the thunders and horrors of war. There 
may come a beautiful day when the dreaming pas- 
sion of the nightingale's voice through the dewy 

[ 252 ] 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF PAIN 

darkness will give us all the heartache we require. 
When the sweetness and colour of roses will arouse 
that ecstasy that is as delicious as pain. When 
that time comes, we may at last put aside all noise 
and clamour, all garish, savage means of assuring 
ourselves that we live, and once more walk in the 
Gardens of Paradise in the cool of the day, inno- 
cent and content, sure of being ahve at last through 
mere perfection of delight. 



ENVOY 

A PHYSICIAN, visiting an asylum, met in a 
corridor one of the patients galloping rapidly 
to and fro upon a walking-stick. 

" That 's a fine horse you have there,'* remarked 
the doctor soothingly. 

The dignified elderly rider reined in his wooden 
steed for a moment and replied, with a shade of con- 
tempt : — 

" This is n't a horse, you know. If it were a 
horse, I could dismount, ^bis is a hobby." 



CAMBRIDGE . MASSACHUSETTS 
U . S . A 



fir